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Coalition of more than 150 agricultural groups calls for improved USDA oversight of GMO field trials

Posted: August 22, 2013 |   Comments

( Citing the May, 2013, discovery of unapproved genetically engineered wheat in Oregon, a coalition of more than 150 groups, including food and farming organizations and companies and seed companies and producers, joined together Wednesday to call on the USDA to improve oversight for experimental trials of genetically modified organisms.

After GM wheat was discovered in Oregon, Japan banned the import of U.S. wheat, which struck a heavy blow to farmers who never even wanted to raise genetically engineered crops.

"The economic impacts of the GE wheat discovery in Oregon were immediate," says Clint Lindsey, an Oregon wheat grower who sells to a grain exporter that serves Japan. The coalition of agricultural groups blames the incident on "the inadequacy of current U.S. regulation of GE crop field trials." They also note that all U.S. export markets reject GE crops, necessitating more stringent regulation for these experimental plants.

Last month, Japan resumed wheat imports from the U.S., after the USDA announced that no new instances of GE wheat have been identified either growing or in commerce. Regardless, the threat of contamination is real and new measures need to be put into place to safeguard against it and protect farmers.

The coalition met with USDA Secretary Vilsack last week to give suggestions for improving oversight of GMO trials. The coalition asked the USDA to adopt the following recommendations:

  • Halting new approvals of GE wheat field trials at least until the Oregon contamination investigation is complete.
  • Fully implementing recommendations made by investigative bodies and Congress to improve oversight of GMO trials
  • Publishing a final report that describes the department's investigation into the Oregon GE wheat contamination
  • Having the appropriate tools to test for unapproved GE traits before approving field trials
  • Requiring mandated containment protocols for all GE crop field trials.

"We are grateful that Secretary Vilsack is taking seriously our concerns and recommendations regarding the department's oversight of GE crop field trials," says Kristina Hubbard, director of advocacy and communications for Organic Seed Alliance.

"Protecting the genetic integrity of seed and crops must begin at the field trial stage. We hope the department moves forward in fully implementing necessary improvements to protect American farmers and the markets they serve. But these improvements will only be as strong as the department's oversight and enforcement."

"This is an issue that affects all farmers, regardless of convention and their markets," Hubbard says.

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