Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wait, Did the USDA Just Deregulate All New Genetically Modified Crops?

By Tom Philpott
Mother Jones, July 8, 2011 


It's a hoary bureaucratic trick, making a controversial announcement on the Friday afternoon before a long weekend, when most people are daydreaming about what beer to buy on the way home from work, or are checking movie times online. But that's precisely what the US Department of Agriculture pulled last Friday.

In an innocuous-sounding press release titled "USDA Responds to Regulation Requests Regarding Kentucky Bluegrass," agency officials announced their decision not to regulate a "Roundup Ready" strain of Kentucky bluegrass-that is, a strain genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate, Monsanto's widely used herbicide, which we know as Roundup. The maker of the novel grass seed, Scotts Miracle Gro, is now free to sell it far and wide. So you'll no doubt be seeing Roundup Ready bluegrass blanketing lawns and golf courses near you-and watching anal neighbors and groundskeepers literally dousing the grass in weed killer without fear of harming a single precious blade.

Which is worrisome enough. But even more worrisome is the way this particular product was approved. According to Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists' Food and Environment Program, the documents released by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) along with the announcement portend a major change in how the feds will deal with genetically modified crops.

Notably, given the already-lax regulatory regime governing GMOs (genetically modified organisms, click here for a primer), APHIS seems to be ramping down oversight to the point where it is essentially meaningless. The new regime corresponding with the bluegrass announcement would "drastically weaken USDA's regulation," Gurian-Sherman told me. "This is perhaps the most serious change in US regs for [genetically modified] crops for many years."

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