By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 – The House Agriculture Committee jumped into the “coexistence” debate Friday over whether the Agriculture Department should place restrictions on genetically engineered (GE) crops. The immediate issue is Roundup Ready alfalfa because USDA is expected to announce on Monday, Jan. 24 whether it will allow unrestricted planting of GE alfalfa or impose restrictions which could include geographic limits, harvest timing, seed labeling and/or equipment handling rules.

The House Agriculture Committee under its new Chair Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has entered the debate by scheduling an unusual “Public Forum” for Thursday, Jan. 20 “To review the biotechnology product regulatory approval process.” This is a public forum rather than a congressional hearing because the committee is not yet fully organized with all members named. Despite not being able to hold a formal hearing, Lucas apparently wanted to air committee views on coexistence before USDA announces its decision.

Many other views have already been aired. Six major farm organizations sent a Jan. 5 letter to White House science advisor Dr. John Holdren warning against allowing USDA “to use motives beyond science to impose conditions” on GE alfalfa. The letter states that restrictions “would set a dangerous precedent for the continued safe development, availability, and marketability of new biotechnology tools.”

Critics of GE alfalfa have also been outspoken, warning that the bees which pollinate alfalfa travel up to five miles and therefore could spread GE alfalfa to conventional and organic alfalfa fields.

For more Agri-Pulse coverage of the alfalfa debate, click HERE.

To read the farm groups' Jan. 5 letter to the White House, click HERE.

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