By Brittany Jablonsky, Government Relations Representative

One area in which the farm bill draft recently passed by the House Committee on Agriculture differed significantly from the version of the bill passed by the Senate last month was a section dealing with agricultural biotechnology. These provisions, found in the horticulture title of the House bill, would change the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s review process for new genetically modified crops by establishing significantly shorter deadlines, removing some regulatory agencies’ authority and putting into place other provisions to expedite and deregulate the process.

Under the provisions, if USDA’s initial review of a new crop indicates it may not pose a risk, but it is unable to respond to a petition within the timeframe required, the crop would automatically be approved under the law. This backdoor approval would also exist for applications that are currently under review by the USDA and have gone through an initial public comment period.

The Center for Food Safety coordinated a letter opposing the provisions, which included signatories such as Food and Water Watch, National Cooperative Grocers Association, National Family Farm Coalition, National Organic Coalition and Organic Trade Association, citing the need to maintain the existing regulatory oversight of the agricultural biotechnology approval process.

A separate coalition of organizations sent another letter of opposition, focusing on trade implications and the unintended negative consequences that may affect the integrity of the domestic and export supply chain. This letter included the Corn Refiners Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Grain and Feed Association, National Oilseed Processors Association, North American Export Grain Association, North American Millers Association and Snack Food Association as signatories.

As expected, the Biotechnology Industry Organization supports the provisions and coordinated a letter of support that included the Agricultural Retailers Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Seed Trade Association, American Soybean Association, American Sugarbeet Growers Association, National Association of Wheat Growers and National Corn Growers Association.

National Farmers Union policy supports oversight of genetically modified crops, and NFU opposes these provisions.

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