WASHINGTON, March 4, 2014 – How can USDA better foster communication and collaboration among those involved in diverse agricultural systems? That’s the key question USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) posed for public comment last year with an extended deadline that expires today.

The Federal Register notice seeks reaction to a coexistence report presented to Secretary Tom Vilsack by USDA’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture on Nov. 19, 2012. The Committee made recommendations in five major areas, but some organic growers didn’t think the group went far enough to address this highly controversial subject. Among other concerns, they wanted a compensation mechanism to pay for any type of contamination of their crops by biotech crops.

Agricultural coexistence refers to the concurrent cultivation of crops produced through

diverse agricultural systems, including traditionally produced, organic, identity preserved (IP), and genetically engineered crops, according to USDA.

“As the complexity and diversity of U.S. agriculture increases, so does the importance of managing issues that affect agricultural coexistence, such as seed purity, gene flow, post-harvest mixing, identity testing, and market requirements,” notes APHIS in the Federal Register notice.

It’s a question USDA has been grappling with for years, and from the looks of the request for public comment, the process may take even longer. After the public comments are reviewed, the agency plans to host a public forum on the same topic.

As of last night, only about 2,400 responses had been submitted, but several interest groups are pushing their members to write in before the deadline.

Sen. Jon Tester also weighed in with his comments, telling USDA that it should take steps to prevent cross-pollination from genetically-engineered plants to traditional plants and that seed companies must be held accountable for any economic losses caused by contamination of traditional crops. 

The Montana Democrat, who also farms, said that labels should be required on genetically engineered foods to increase food transparency.  Tester’s full comments can be found here.


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