WASHINGTON, July 25, 2012 -Horticulture is an area treated differently between the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill proposal and a Senate version, with the former including language that intends to speed up the approval of genetically modified crops.

However, Secretary Vilsack claims the hurry-up provisions are unnecessary, because “there’s been an effort on our part to streamline the approval process.”

USDA recently began a new review system that takes the process from application to approval from around 900 days to less than a year. Under the revised process, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) provides the opportunity for earlier input from the public on petitions for deregulation.

“If the goal here is to speed the process up, I think we’ve already working in that direction in a way that doesn’t compromise the ability of the department to do the work that it has to do under the Plant Protection Act,” Vilsack said.

The House Agriculture Committee’s “biotechnology regulatory streamlining” provision is intended to ensure that USDA’s review of GE products “occurs in a timeframe that facilitates continued innovation and adaptation of new tools to meet the challenges of food security.”

Several groups, including the National Organic Coalition, the Organic Trade Association and the Center for Food Safety, opposed the biotechnology provisions in the House Agriculture Committee legislation, claiming that current regulatory oversight of genetically engineered products should be maintained.

The Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21), first established in 2003 and revived by Vilsack, is intended to focus on coexistence issues among agricultural production methods. The current committee will meet for the fifth time August 27-28, when a topic of debate is whether USDA should provide a mechanism for compensation if an organic producer’s crop is “contaminated” by neighboring GE crops. During the most recent session, AC21 members discussed the possibility of USDA designing a system based on the crop insurance model.

“There ought to be some way in which we at USDA work with those producers to do just for them what we’ve done for a lot of other crops, and that’s to mitigate a risk,” Vilsack said. “We’ve got crop insurance that mitigates the risk of drought, fire or storm. Well what about mitigating the risk of contamination?”

Noting that most producers acknowledge “the responsibility to their neighbors to make sure they minimize any risk of unintentional contamination,” Vilsack maintained that stewardship “mitigates the risk but doesn’t completely cover the risk.” He emphasized the possibility of forming a “partnership” between producers and USDA where “you have some folks mitigating the risk and some folks covering the risk.”


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