P A N U P S
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service
Action Alert: USDA Seeks Comment on GE Policies
May 12, 2000
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) recently established Advisory
Committee for Agricultural Biotechnology has been given a far-reaching
mission by USDA Secretary Dan Glickman. Glickman has asked the Committee to
address societal and ecological implications of agricultural biotechnology,
as well as the performance of USDA's various policies and programs related
to genetic engineering (GE).
The Committee is currently the only high-level U.S. government committee
with both a broad mandate on biotechnology and diverse representation. Its
38 members include scientists, seed company executives and farmers, as well
as representatives of groups such as the Organic Farming Research
Foundation, Rural Advancement Foundation International and Union of
Concerned Scientists. Its work constitutes an important opportunity to raise
the social, economic and environmental dimensions of the biotechnology
debate and to influence USDA's future course on this and related issues.
The Committee, authorized for two years, held its first meeting in March in
Washington DC. Written comments, which may be submitted at any time, can
provide much needed input to help the Advisory Committee for Agricultural
Biotechnology prioritize issues. Write to the Committee and tell them to
take up the following items:
1. "Terminator" technology and the role of publicly funded agricultural
USDA is co-holder of "Terminator" patents covering seed sterilization
technologies. This application of genetic engineering is a highly
inappropriate expenditure of public research dollars. USDA should develop a
policy prohibiting the expenditure of any further public funds on testing
and developing this technology. Urge the Committee to investigate how the
USDA can withdraw from the three Terminator patents it now holds and from
all genetic seed sterilization research.
2. Re-allocation of USDA funding among agricultural technologies.
Secretary Glickman has asked the Committee to make suggestions about USDA
budget priorities. Urge the Committee to look for ways to give a fair share
of the budget to alternatives such as organic production, whole farm
management, biointensive integrated pest management, and non-GE seed
3. Accountability for gene pollution.
One the major issues posed by the transgenic crop technologies is "genetic
pollution," the inadvertent cross-pollination of neighboring non-GE crops
due to pollen drift. A related problem is contamination of seed stocks when
transgenic seeds are mingled with non-GE supplies. This is an emerging
problem for both organic and those conventional farmers who want to capture
non-GE markets in Japan and the European Union. Urge the Committee to
investigate ways to place responsibility for genetic pollution on the
companies who sell and retain intellectual property interests in GE crops.
4. The Family Farmer--An Endangered Species.
In a food system dominated by transnational conglomerates, family farmers in
the U.S. are an endangered species. Urge the Committee to examine USDA
biotechnology policy in the context of the industrialization of U.S.
agriculture and to examine the relationship between GE technology and
5. Rigorous Evaluation of Environmental Risks.
USDA is one of three federal departments responsible for regulating GE
crops. USDA's role is to determine if transgenic crops pose a hazard to the
agricultural environment. This review has been notoriously lax, and USDA has
rubber-stamped thousands of releases of genetically modified organisms into
the environment. Ask the Committee to examine USDA's regulatory program in
detail and recommend ways to strengthen it.
Written comments should be submitted to:
Dr. Schechtman, DFO
Office of the Deputy Sec,
202A Jamie Whitten Federal Building,
12th and Independence Ave, SW, Washington, DC 20250
USDA's press release announcing the Committee and listing members can be
viewed at http://www.usda.gov/news/releases/2000/01/0023
Source/contact: National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, P.O. Box 396,
Pine Bush, NY 12566; phone (914) 744-8448; fax (914) 744-8477; email
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