Washington, D.C.—Today, 24 farmer and public interest organizations called on the Obama Administration to conduct a new public engagement process as part of the overhaul of federal regulation of biotechnology known as the Coordinated Framework. The letter comes on the heels of a spate of dicamba drift incidents this summer that have caused widespread crop damage in Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. The highly volatile and plant-toxic herbicide dicamba is being applied to Monsanto’s new genetically engineered soybeans known as Xtend, recently approved by the USDA.
The modernization process, kicked off with a memo from the White House in July of 2015, is supposedly focused on “improving the transparency, coordination, predictability and efficiency” of the regulation of genetically engineered (GE) products, while “continuing to protect health and the environment.”
In their letter, the groups described how the public process used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration has failed to engage the public in any meaningful way.
“Release of GE products — and the pesticides they rely on — into the market and the environment have the potential for real and immediate adverse impacts on public health, farmers’ livelihoods, rural communities and consumers around the country,” said Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “Yet the public meetings conducted by USDA, FDA and EPA were in poorly chosen locations, badly publicized and clearly not designed to actually collect meaningful public input. The entire process was skewed from the start.”
Specific concerns in the letter include:
- The agencies’ last minute, and sometimes complete failure to publicize opportunities for public comments at public meetings
- The agencies’ failure to hold any public meetings in the Midwest, Northern Plains and South, where many GE crops are planted, despite requests to add additional meetings.
“If these agencies really wanted to hear about the current experience people are having with GE crops, they needed to get input from people in regions of the country where they are grown,” said Margot McMillen, a farmer in Calloway County, Missouri. “Only holding meetings in Washington, D.C.; Dallas, Texas and Davis, California does not constitute an open conversation with farmers and rural communities affected by GE crops.”
The groups also pointed out that the failure to engage in a meaningful public input process seems to be indicative of deeper problems with the Administration’s approach to updating the Coordinated Framework.
“President Obama just signed the DARK Act, which blocks state GMO labeling laws that people around the country worked for years to enact,” said Judith McGeary, Executive Director of Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance. “The least he could do at this point is to take these steps to ensure that farmers and consumers have a real voice in the Coordinated Framework process.”
“The Obama Administration seems to be more concerned with speeding up the regulatory process than making it more protective of health, the environment, and the farm economy,” said Lynn C. Wolfe, retired farmer and long-time organizer in North Dakota. “We need a total overhaul of the system for regulating GE crops and animals that takes a much more precautionary approach.”
The groups urged the White House and the agencies to take several steps to rectify the failure of the public engagement process, including:
- Revising the scope of the Coordinated Framework to give explicit instructions that the purpose is to ensure the protection of the public good (e.g. health, livelihood, environment and well-being), and that GE regulations must weigh all potential consequences of new GE crops
- Holding additional public meetings in the Midwest, Northern Plains and Southern regions in states where GE crops are widely grown and where farmers and rural communities are likely to be directly or indirectly impacted by the biotech regulatory system
- Ensuring that the purpose of these meetings is to seek public feedback regarding those roles and what a revised regulatory system should include, and to adequately publicize these meetings.
“Instead of pandering to the interests of biotech corporations, the White House should be directing USDA, EPA and FDA to fulfill their responsibility to the American public and strengthen — not weaken — regulatory oversight of these technologies,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.
The letter was signed by Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Dakota Resource Council, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Food & Water Watch, Food for Maine's Future, Grand Forks County Citizens Coalition, Missouri Rural Crisis Center, National Family Farm Coalition, National Organic Coalition, Northeast Organic Farming Association – Interstate Council, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, Organic Seed Alliance, Pesticide Action Network North America, Powder River Basin Resource Council, Rural Vermont, Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, South Agassiz Resource Council, Western Colorado Congress, Western Organization of Resource Councils.
Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, [email protected], (202) 683-4905
Linda Wells, Pesticide Action Network, (563) 940-1242
Lisa Griffith, National Family Farm Coalition, (773) 319-5838