Opposing Farm Bill biotech riders

More than Seventy-Five Organizations and Businesses Unite in Opposing Controversial Agricultural Biotech Riders in House Farm Bill

Buried provisions would eliminate meaningful USDA oversight, create backdoor approvals for the controversial 2,4-D corn and other GE crops and legalize levels of transgenic pollution

September 13, 2012

The Honorable Debbie Stabenow Chair, Senate Committee on Agriculture
The Honorable Pat Roberts Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Agriculture
The Honorable Frank Lucas Chair, House Committee on Agriculture
The Honorable Collin Peterson Ranking Member, House Committee on Agriculture

Dear Chairwoman Stabenow, Ranking Member Roberts, Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson:

The undersigned coalition of food businesses and retailers, and family farm, consumer, health and environmental groups, representing millions of members across the United States, oppose Sections 10011, 10013 and 10014 of the House Agriculture Committee’s discussion draft of the 2012 Farm Bill, as they would radically undermine oversight of genetically engineered (GE) crops. Buried in the voluminous House Farm Bill, these significant changes to the current regulation of GE crops would create serious risks to farmers, the environment and public health.

The aforementioned sections weaken GE crop reviews under the Plant Protection Act (PPA) and compel the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish a controversial policy that would for the first time set an acceptable level of GE contamination in the nation’s non-GE crops without recourse. Over the past decade, federal courts have ruled that USDA acted unlawfully in approving several GE crops for commercial use, and court-ordered analyses have documented serious environmental risks and economic harms from some of these crops. Furthermore, the National Academy of Sciences, USDA’s Office of Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office and others have sharply criticized the Department’s oversight of GE crops for failing to adequately protect the agricultural supply chain from unintended transgenic contamination.

Rather than responsibly improving GE crop oversight, the current version of the much-maligned House Farm Bill seeks to recklessly weaken the rules. Together, the riders would eliminate the much needed review of these novel crops, forcing hasty approvals in advancing the chemical industry’s interests in selling their products. Most concerning, these riders may:

1) Outlaw any review of GE crops’ impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA) or any other environmental law, or by any agency other than USDA. For example, harm to protected species could occur without any input from our expert wildlife agencies.

2) Prohibit other agencies from offering expert input in the review process and, instead, limit review to solely USDA under the PPA. However, meaningful review would likely be eliminated by this rider, as USDA’s analysis of potential harmful impacts is barred from informing any approval decision. The agency is also barred from using its broader statutory authority granted in the PPA of 2000 and, instead, is limited to its outdated 1957 Federal Plant Pest Act authority.

3) Force the backdoor approval of GE crops through unreasonably short deadlines, allowing for the potential of an automatic default to approval and commercialization even if USDA has not fully reviewed and approved them. The provisions would also bar any agency funds from being spent on impacts analysis beyond the riders’ narrow and time-forced approval.

4) Codify a dangerous national policy of allowing transgenic contamination in crops and foods, risking loss of GE-sensitive domestic and export markets and loss of biodiversity.

5) Limit EPA’s oversight of biotech crops engineered to produce or contain a pesticide by forcing the agency to choose the least burdensome choice for industry, regardless of environmental consequences.

As you are aware, science and time have shown that GE crops can cause significant harms to agriculture and the environment. These novel crops — the overwhelming majority engineered to be resistant to herbicides, such as Monsanto’s Roundup — have dramatically increased overall herbicide use, caused an epidemic scourge of resistant superweeds and triggered repeated transgenic contamination of non-biotech agriculture and the wild.

Federal courts have ruled for farmers, businesses and public interest plaintiffs numerous times, finding that USDA had violated federal law by failing to adequately consider and regulate these potential harms. Rather than address these continued failures, this bill would instead eviscerate meaningful USDA review, replacing it with an ineffective assessment process that cannot inform the Department’s decision; cut out expertise from other agencies permanently (ex. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service); and prohibit UDSA from using any funds to conduct any additional environmental analyses.

Fundamentally, Congress should not attempt to alter the USDA’s regulatory framework for GE crops in such a one-sided and non-transparent manner. The new deadlines and diminished review process will make a mockery of USDA’s GE crop reviews, transforming it into a façade of ‘rubber stamp’ approval at the urging of the chemical industry. The only gain from these measures will be to pesticide company profits at the expense of conventional and organic farmers and businesses, consumers and the environment.

The 2012 Farm Bill is the wrong vehicle to be discussing such proposals given the magnitude of the issue and the fact that these riders have not received any floor debate, are not based on any previous legislation and have not been the subject of hearings in either the Senate or the House. Any significant changes to the oversight and regulation of GE crops and foods should be given a proper venue for debate among all stakeholders, rather than being surreptitiously tacked on to sweeping legislation at the last minute.

For the foregoing reasons, we respectfully oppose the biotech riders (Sections 10011, 10013 and 10014) in the House Farm Bill, call on Congress to exclude them from consideration in any Farm Bill and support any effort to do so.

Respectfully submitted:

Business, Trade and Farming Associations
Albert’s Organics
Annie's Inc.
Del Cabo, Inc.
EConsulting
Eden Foods
Equal Exchange
Good Earth Natural Foods
Jacobs Farm
Lundberg Family Farms
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
National Cooperative Grocers Association
New England Farmers Union
Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance
Northeast Organic Farming Association - Connecticut
Northeast Organic Farming Association - Interstate Council
Organic Farmers' Agency for Relationship Marketing, Inc.
Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association
Organic Trade Association
PCC Natural Markets
Planetary Health, Inc.
San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association
United Natural Foods, Inc.
Wood Prairie Farm

National, State and Local Organizations
AllergyKids Foundation
Alliance for Humane Biotechnology
Alliance for Natural Health USA
Beyond Pesticides
Bluefestival
Californians for Alternatives to Toxics
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Environmental Health
Center for Food Safety
Cornucopia Institute
Cuatro Puertas
Dakota Rural Action
Earthjustice
Ecological Farming Association
Farm Aid
Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance
Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
Food and Water Watch
Food Rights Network
Friends of the Earth US
Global Justice Ecology Project
Go Wild Campaign
Institute for Responsible Technology
Iowa Breast Cancer Edu-action
Just Label It
Label GMOs
Mangrove Action Project
Moms Advocating Sustainability
National Family Farm Coalition
National Organic Coalition
Natural Resources Defense Council
Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society
Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance
Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides
Northwest Resistance Against Genetic Engineering
Oregon Tilth
Organic Consumers Association
Organic Farming Research Foundation
Organic Seed Alliance
Partners for the Land & Agricultural Needs of Traditional Peoples
Pesticide Action Network North America
Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine
Progressive Agriculture Organization
Rural Advancement Fund International - USA
Sierra Club
Sustainable Fairfax
The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
Truth in Labeling Coalition
Union of Concerned Scientists
Washington Biotechnology Action Council
Western Organization of Resource Councils
Weston A. Price Foundation

Individuals
Former Congressman Jim Bates
Dr. Jennifer F. Brewer, East Carolina University
Dr. Jack Heinemann, University of Canterbury

CC: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Senate Assistant Minority Leader Jon Kyl
Speaker of the House John Boehner
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer

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