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Daily News Blog

10
Jun

Federal Framework Seeks to Accelerate Adoption of Genetically Engineered (GE) Crops with Exemptions from Regulation

Tell USDA, FDA, and EPA to replace Framework agricultural provisions with policies discouraging GE crops and promoting organic agriculture.

(Beyond Pesticides, June 10, 2024) Expanding the planting of genetically engineered crops is the major focus of “The Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology – Plan for Regulatory Reform under the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology” (Framework), released in May by three federal agencies. In its Framework, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) use the words “exempt” or “exemption” in reference to federal safety regulations 21 times. Then, another 21 times the agencies identify their efforts to “streamline” the process for bringing genetically engineered “plant-incorporated protectants” (PIPs) to market. Without including the word “resistance” even once, the Framework advances the interests of the biotech and allied industries, ignoring the serious scientific issues regarding health and environmental effects and the economic failure for farmers facing crop loss. Meanwhile, the issue of resistance is not new to EPA, which has for years acknowledged the resistance problem despite allowing continued weed resistance to weed killers used with herbicide-tolerant crops and insect resistance to the pesticides incorporated into plants.  

>> Tell USDA, FDA, and EPA to replace agricultural provisions in the Framework with policies that discourage GE crops and promote organic agriculture.

Weeds and insects do evolve resistance to the weed and insect killing chemicals. With more than 70% of all GE crops altered to be herbicide tolerant, the increased planting of herbicide-resistant GE crops has led to the evolution of “super weeds,” the destruction of pollinator habitat, increased drift damage to neighboring fields, and increased use of herbicides. With the incorporation of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) genes into crop plants, insects evolved resistance to Bt toxins, and biotech companies started “stacking” genes for more toxins into their seeds, which merely delayed the inevitable. See Beyond Pesticides’ comments on PIPs resistance here and here. 

The updated Framework stems from the Biden Administration’s 2022 Executive Order 14081, “Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure Bioeconomy,” which aims to accelerate biotechnology innovation and grow the bioeconomy across multiple sectors. The Framework characterizes the executive order as having “the goal of accelerating biotechnology innovation and growing America’s bioeconomy across multiple sectors, including health, agriculture, and energy.” See more on the resistance issue here. 

USDA has taken an approach to genetically engineered (GE) crops or processed foods with GE agricultural ingredients that has defied transparency and consumer right-to-know with labeling that advocates say misleads people at the point of sale. USDA’s authority to mislead stems from a statute it supported, the 2016 National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Act, dubbed the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, that has led to what advocates call deceptive messaging. The law preempts states from adopting stronger label language and standards, and excludes a large portion of the population without special cell phone technology (because information is accessed the QR codes on products). However, USDA regulations go further—creating loopholes and barriers to transparency that prohibit the use of the widely-known terms “GMO” and “GE” and prohibit retailers from providing more information to consumers. Instead, USDA designed with a “bioengineered” and “derived from bioengineering” graphic with an image of a farm. The label took effect January 1, 2022. 

Although both of the Framework and the Executive Order address a broad range of biotechnology applications, the agricultural applications are noteworthy because they deny the reality of evolution, pose environmental and health hazards, and enrich chemical companies at the expense of farmers. 

In deciding to ban GE, or genetically modified (GM), corn, Mexico compiled a database of scientific studies that document the health impacts to insects, pollinators, and animals fed GE corn, as well as the adverse health impacts of glyphosate on humans. In addition to herbicide-tolerant GE crops, a report by CBAN (the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network) states, “Most GM corn plants are genetically modified to kill insect pests. The GM plants express a toxin from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that is known to harm the guts of specific types of insects but not others. Farmers have long used Bt as a spray to kill pests but the Bt toxins in GM crops are different from this natural Bt in structure, function, and biological effects.” The report continues, “In fact, peer-reviewed studies across the scientific literature continue to find that Bt toxins in GM plants can harm insects (spiders, wasps, ladybugs, and lacewings, for example) that are not the intended targets.” 

Instead of trying to fight natural biological processes, organic agriculture works with the biology of crops and the surrounding ecosystem. Organic producers are required “to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” In doing so, not only do they respond to consumers’ demand for healthful food uncontaminated by toxic pesticides, but they also contribute to the health of farmers and farmworkers, protect the land, air, and water from toxic chemicals, and help mitigate climate change. 

Federal agencies should not be promoting GE crops but should instead encourage a rapid transformation to organic agriculture nationwide.  

Consumers can avoid food with GE ingredients by buying organic food. 

>> Tell USDA, FDA, and EPA to replace agricultural provisions in the Framework with policies that discourage GE crops and promote organic agriculture. 

Letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, and FDA Commissioner Robert Califf: 

The Biden administration, like others before it, has been removing obstacles to the spread of genetic engineering (GE) in agriculture. Two tools in expanding the use of GE are a document issued jointly last month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “The Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology – Plan for Regulatory Reform under the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology” (Framework) and the September 12, 2022 Executive Order 14081, “Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure Bioeconomy,” which aims to accelerate biotechnology innovation and grow the bioeconomy across multiple sectors. 

Although both of these documents address a broad range of biotechnology applications, the agricultural applications are noteworthy because they deny the reality of evolution, pose environmental and health hazards, and enrich chemical companies at the expense of farmers. 

Two commonly used GE methods used in chemical-intensive agriculture are the creation of herbicide-tolerant crops and “plant-incorporated protectants” (PIPs). Both deny the existence of evolution, but weeds and insects do evolve resistance to the technology. With more than 70% of all GE crops altered to be herbicide resistant, the increased planting of herbicide-resistant GE crops has led to the evolution of “super weeds,” the destruction of pollinator habitat, increased drift damage to neighboring fields, and increased use of herbicides. With the incorporation of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) genes into crop plants, insects evolved resistance to Bt toxins, and biotech companies started “stacking” genes for more toxins into their seeds, which merely delayed the inevitable.  

In deciding to ban GE corn, Mexico compiled a database of scientific studies that document the health impacts to insects, pollinators, and animals fed GE corn, as well as the adverse health impacts of glyphosate on humans. In addition to herbicide-tolerant GE crops, a report by CBAN (the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network) states, “Most GM corn plants are genetically modified to kill insect pests. The GM plants express a toxin from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that is known to harm the guts of specific types of insects but not others. Farmers have long used Bt as a spray to kill pests but the Bt toxins in GM crops are different from this natural Bt in structure, function, and biological effects.” The report continues, “In fact, peer-reviewed studies across the scientific literature continue to find that Bt toxins in GM plants can harm insects (spiders, wasps, ladybugs, and lacewings, for example) that are not the intended targets.” 

Instead of trying to fight natural biological processes, organic agriculture works with the biology of crops and the surrounding ecosystem. Organic producers are required “to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” In doing so, not only do they respond to consumers’ demand for healthful food uncontaminated by toxic pesticides, but they also contribute to the health of farmers and farmworkers, protect the land, air, and water from toxic chemicals, and help mitigate climate change. 

Your agency should not be promoting GE crops but should instead encourage a rapid transformation to organic agriculture nationwide.  

Thank you. 

Letter to U.S. Representative and Senators: 

The Biden administration, like others before it, has been removing obstacles to the spread of genetic engineering (GE) in agriculture. Two tools in expanding the use of GE are a document issued jointly last month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “The Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology – Plan for Regulatory Reform under the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology” (Framework) and the September 12, 2022 Executive Order 14081, “Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure Bioeconomy,” which aims to accelerate biotechnology innovation and grow the bioeconomy across multiple sectors. 

Although both of these documents address a broad range of biotechnology applications, the agricultural applications are noteworthy because they deny the reality of evolution, pose environmental and health hazards, and enrich chemical companies at the expense of farmers. 

Two commonly used GE methods used in chemical-intensive agriculture are the creation of herbicide-tolerant crops and “plant-incorporated protectants” (PIPs). Both deny the existence of evolution, but weeds and insects do evolve resistance to the technology. With more than 70% of all GE crops altered to be herbicide resistant, the increased planting of herbicide-resistant GE crops has led to the evolution of “super weeds,” the destruction of pollinator habitat, increased drift damage to neighboring fields, and increased use of herbicides. With the incorporation of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) genes into crop plants, insects evolved resistance to Bt toxins, and biotech companies started “stacking” genes for more toxins into their seeds, which merely delayed the inevitable.  

In deciding to ban GE corn, Mexico compiled a database of scientific studies that document the health impacts to insects, pollinators, and animals fed GE corn, as well as the adverse health impacts of glyphosate on humans. In addition to herbicide-tolerant GE crops, a report by CBAN (the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network) states, “Most GM corn plants are genetically modified to kill insect pests. The GM plants express a toxin from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that is known to harm the guts of specific types of insects but not others. Farmers have long used Bt as a spray to kill pests but the Bt toxins in GM crops are different from this natural Bt in structure, function, and biological effects.” The report continues, “In fact, peer-reviewed studies across the scientific literature continue to find that Bt toxins in GM plants can harm insects (spiders, wasps, ladybugs, and lacewings, for example) that are not the intended targets.” 

Instead of trying to fight natural biological processes, organic agriculture works with the biology of crops and the surrounding ecosystem. Organic producers are required “to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” In doing so, not only do they respond to consumers’ demand for healthful food uncontaminated by toxic pesticides, but they also contribute to the health of farmers and farmworkers, protect the land, air, and water from toxic chemicals, and help mitigate climate change. 

Please ensure that federal agencies are not promoting GE crops but instead encourage a rapid transformation to organic agriculture nationwide.  

Thank you. 

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.  

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One Response to “Federal Framework Seeks to Accelerate Adoption of Genetically Engineered (GE) Crops with Exemptions from Regulation”

  1. 1
    richard laybourn Says:

    I strongly support the position of Beyond Pesticides.

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