The future of biotech alfalfa was in the spotlight as the U.S. House Agriculture Committee held a hearing Thursday to review the biotechnology product regulatory approval process.
Prior to the hearing, committee chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) joined Senate Republican colleagues in sending a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting that the department “return to a science based regulatory system for agriculture biotechnology and to deregulate without conditions genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa.” The letter noted that while science strongly supports the safety of GE alfalfa, USDA’s proposal politicizes the regulatory process and could set a harmful precedent for open pollinated crops in the future.
Vilsack was the main witness at the hearing and in his testimony he pointed out that the legal challenges related to GE alfalfa have taken years. “APHIS made its initial decision to deregulate GE alfalfa in June 2005. Yet here we are nearly six years later with the process not yet concluded,” said Vilsack. “The situation needs to be resolved. The legal challenges, and the resulting effects, have created uncertainty for all growers. Growers need to order seed and make planting decisions, but have difficulty when the legal challenges cause so much uncertainty. There are companies and researchers who have devoted significant resources to developing safe products that can help us meet our food security needs, but find themselves fighting in the courts, or waiting to see how a judge’s decision in a separate case will affect them.”
When asked about the issue during a press conference on another subject Thursday, Vilsack made several points. “Number one, we recognize our responsibilities under the plant protection act and we take them very seriously,” said Vilsack. “Number two, we understand that our decision needs to be done in a timely basis so that folks that are waiting to decide what to do and when to do it and how to do it will have enough time and enough direction to be able to do it. Number three, we recognize that any decision that is made has to be science based, that is what the law requires and that is what we will do.”
Listen to those comments from Vilsack here: Vilsack comments on GE Alfalfa
Vilsack also commented on the issue during his address at the recent American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting. “What we’re trying to do is to stimulate a conversation and to ensure that every person, every farmer, every rancher, every grower has the capacity to do on their land what they wish to do,” he said. “If you want to grow GM crops you ought to be able to do that, if you want to grow identity-preserved conventional you ought to be able to do that, if you want to be an organic farmer you ought to be able to do that.”
Listen to Vilsack’s comments on the alfalfa issue from AFBF here: Vilsack at AFBF