WASHINGTON, July 11, 2012 -The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) made nine petitions for genetically-engineered (GE) plants available for nonregulated status last week. The agency also made three other petitions available for public comment before final approval, in addition to two final regulatory decisions.

The two final decisions included the modified oil soybean (Monsanto) and the glufosinate-tolerant, bollworm resistant Cotton (Bayer), both of which will no longer be subject to APHIS regulation after the agency determined they are “unlikely to pose a plant pest risk.”

The new review process announced by APHIS in November 2011 provides the opportunity for earlier input from the public on petitions for deregulation. Under the new review process, the public can help APHIS “identify any potential environmental and interrelated economic issues,” and then have an additional opportunity to review and comment on APHIS’ draft plant pest risk assessments and draft environmental assessments before the agency makes its final regulatory decisions.

APHIS announced the following GE plants have nonregulated status petitions available for 60 days of public review and comment in the first stage of the process:

  • Glyphosate Tolerant Canola (Pioneer)

  • Low-Browning Apple (Okanagan Specialty Fruits)

  • Imidazolinone Tolerant Soybean (BASF)

  • Glyphosate Tolerant Canola (Monsanto)

  • High-Yield Soybean (Monsanto)

  • Hybridization System Corn (Monsanto)

  • 2,4-D, Glyphosate, and Glufosinate Tolerant Soybean (Dow)

  • Glyphosate Tolerant Corn (Genective)

  • Dicamba Tolerant Soybean (Monsanto)

Three other petitions for nonregulated status are open for public comment before the agency’s final decision. APHIS’ risk assessments for these GE products indicate the products “are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agricultural crops or other plants or plant products.” They are:

  • 2,4-D and Glufosinate Tolerant Soybean (Dow)

  • Glyphosate and Glufosinate Tolerant Soybean (Bayer)

  • Rootworm-Resistant Corn (Syngenta)

APHIS will publish notice of these actions in an upcoming issue of the Federal Register and the public comment period will close 60 days following the date of publication.

“As an integral part of this process, the agencies will provide meaningful opportunities for public engagement through notice and comment on the full range of issues relevant to the agencies' decision-making,” continued the USDA statement.

Previously, APHIS made developers’ petitions for nonregulated status available at the same time the agency published its draft plant pest risk assessments and draft environmental assessments for new GE products.

Doug Morrow, a corn and soybean farmer from Marion, Ind., said speeding up the regulatory process is good for his farm, but also potentially for his organic neighbors.

“With more research and more products, we will be able to use products that better enable coexistence,” he said.

He noted that with the drought weakening corn and soybean conditions in Indiana, fighting weeds is even more difficult as the pest plants compete for moisture. Morrow said if a product existed on the market that would enable him to preempt these conditions, he “would definitely purchase it,” but now must resort to spraying multiple times for suppression.

Additionally, the Indiana farmer said the U.S. regulatory process needs to keep up with international competitors like Brazil.

“We can work with Brazil, but don’t want to lose our market share,” he said.

Addressing coexistence issues between producers, Zach Hunnicutt, a corn, soybean and popcorn farmer from Aurora, Neb., said his corn grows side by side with non-GMO popcorn. He said GPS auto-steer technology, along with nozzle precision and accuracy, prevent any damages. In Nebraska, his main weed concern involves being able to preempt unintended drift with advanced products.

“Staying ahead of the game” is important to compete in the international market, he noted.

The House farm bill being marked up today includes language to amend the Plant Protection Act to clarify the process for making field test permit and deregulation determinations, including plant pest risk assessments and environmental analyses.

BIO issued a statement Tuesday supporting the language.

“Farmers and growers have come to depend on these tools and innovations so that they can grow crops more sustainably and help make our world a cleaner, safer and healthier place,” said BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood. “Unfortunately, these innovations are hindered when the regulatory system becomes unpredictable and expensive.”

Producers of every variety are watching the House farm bill and appropriations process for provisions that would speed up the commercialization of GE crops. A provision accepted into the House agriculture appropriations bill, which is waiting for floor time, would allow plantings of certain GE crops until USDA completes any analysis required by a judge in court cases challenging the GE products.

Although commodity groups believe the provision enables certainty for farmers, the Center for Food Safety argues the provision is intended to benefit Monsanto, among other biotechnology companies. The center also decried the House farm bill amendments to the Plant Protection Act, calling the legislation a buried suite of backdoor biotech riders.”


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