The Honorable Thomas Vilsack, Secretary
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue
Washington, DC 20250
July 29, 2010
Dear Secretary Vilsack,
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) believes very strongly that the U.S. Department of
Agriculture should stay the course and not allow further planting of genetically engineered"Roundup Ready¨ ("GE"¨) alfalfa at least until the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is completed. USDA should not rush to an interim deregulation of GE alfalfa, and, in doing so, risk causing permanent damage to both organic and conventional non-GE alfalfa markets. We believe that instead, a fair process will result in the recognition that organic production and trade will be irremediably harmed by the allowance of GE alfalfa.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, June 21, 2010) indicated the value in following the needed laws and administrative procedures for GEalfalfa, so that the real impacts, both ecologically and economically, are fully addressed.Moving forward without a full and objective analysis is unacceptable. Once genes are released in the environment and contamination of organic crops and conventional non-GE crops occurs, there is no way to turn back the clock.
The draft GE alfalfa EIS did not adequately address the severe threat to the organic industry from GE contamination. Organic producers are required to not knowingly use GE inputs,including seeds. Although certification is not automatically revoked due to unavoidable contamination, the marketplace isn't as forgiving. As a result, organic farmers are already being forced to test their seed and products to ensure that they are not contaminated by GE material, and take other onerous preventative measures. This is an unfair burden, created by transgenic contamination that is none of their making.
OTA further requests that until regulations authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill are adopted to ensure that GE contamination is prevented or minimized, no further GE crop, including GE alfalfa, be granted deregulated status. Congress intended for USDA to fulfill the regulatory needs of producers and consumers who choose products produced without the use of GE material.
Based on APHIS' own "Lessons Learned and Revisions under Consideration for APHIS"
Biotechnology Framework," items needing special and immediate attention prior to further deregulation, especially in the case of GE alfalfa, include mandating:
- The creation and retention of complete records by permit or notification holders;
- Representative samples of all GE crops be retained and made available;
- Standard procedures for permit or notification holders in the case of unauthorized
- releases (such as contamination events);
- Standard corrective actions on the part of APHIS (including FDA and EPA as necessary)
- Contractual agreements for permit or notification holders that specify the chain of custody and responsibility; and
- HACCP-type plans for quality management.
Similarly, USDA's ongoing revisions of the Plant Protection Act regulations for GE crops are seemingly stalledsince last summer [See 74 Fed. Reg. 16797 (April 13, 2009)].These regulatory revisions will, among other things, integrate other parts of the PPA into USDA's regulations or GE crops and will include a Programmatic EIS on GE crops, the first programmatic analysis of these issues.USDA should not consider approving GE alfalfa or any other new GE crop until USDA completes its new PPA rules.
Finally, in contrast to the great risks posed to organic farmers, organic businesses, and the environment, thereare no compelling reasons to move forward on deregulating GE alfalfa without implementing this substantially increased regulatory oversight. Less than 10 percent of non-organic alfalfa acreage involves the use of any pesticides, and non-organic alfalfa seed acreage, which uses some pesticides, is very small. Thus, very little pesticide use would be avoided by moving quickly. There is therefore no immediate need's and perhaps no realneed at all-for the proposed deregulation of this novel crop.
Thank you very much.
Organic Trade Association