Scarier than SciFi: The Rocket Docket and Biotech Riders
By Genna Reed
Back in November of 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) unveiled its new and improved, streamlined process for genetically engineered (GE) crop approvals. APHIS anticipated that its new process would shorten approval timelines by 13 to 15 months, expecting all stakeholders to be excited about their big news. Yet, while this process may delight the biotech companies, environmental and consumer advocates were less than thrilled.
USDA claims that the new system will be more collaborative, giving the public more notice and opportunity for comment and scoping earlier in the process. But given the pressure the agency is under to approve GE crops quicker, this collaboration could end up being more in theory than in practice.
Fast forward to two weeks ago. On July 13th, USDA moved forward with notices of twelve new petitions that became available for 60-day public comment periods as well as the deregulation of two GE crops. Among the GE petitions up for comment in this rocket docket are a non-browning apple, a 2,4-D resistant soybean and a dicamba-resistant soybean. Both 2,4-D and dicamba are more toxic herbicides that will be stacked with glyphosate-resistance in a likely futile attempt to combat superweeds. With the spread of multiple resistances in weeds, USDA now more than ever needs to thoroughly review these crops, examining the myriad environmental risks involved with stacking herbicide resistance traits in crops.
Since the start of 2011, USDA has approved 12 GE crops for commercialization—13 percent of the 91 crops that have been approved since the technology was born. A growing number of petitions coupled with a growing number of approvals (the USDA has never denied a single GE crop petition) means more unlabeled GE foods heading towards our plates.
And pretty soon, our opportunity to weigh in on these approvals through the statutory requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) could be entirely stripped away. NEPA is a statute that requires environmental review (in the form of environmental assessments or environmental impact statements) for any major federal actions, including the unrestricted planting of genetically engineered crops.
Just a couple weeks ago, the House Agriculture Committee passed its version of the Farm Bill that contained three biotech riders that could effectively get rid of any science-based review that remains for genetically engineered crops. If left unchanged, these riders would:
- Allow for default approval of a GE crop if USDA does not fully approve or even thoroughly analyze the product by a certain target date.
- Allow for default approval of a GE crop if USDA is unable to approve the crop within 90 days of its expired comment period.
- Limit the quality of the USDA’s review of a GE crop and essentially forego the statutory requirements of NEPA and the Endangered Species Act, even when a threatened or endangered species may be negatively impacted by the GE release.
Food & Water Watch and 40 other groups and organizations signed a letter urging Congress to strike these biotech giveaways from the Farm Bill.
There are currently 20 petitions for deregulation still in the pipeline and there were over 2,500 petitions and notifications for field trials last year. Between the rocket docket and the biotech giveaways in Congress, we could be facing an uncertain future of even more untested, unlabeled and potentially unsafe GE foods than we have today. If you don’t like those odds, sign this petition asking your state and federal elected officials to require labeling for all GE foods and tell your Representative to stop the House Farm Bill biotech riders.