Fox in the Hen House?

Tom Philpott at Grist clarifies a proposed decision by the USDA to allow Monsanto to fund the EIS studies on its own products:

Last August, Federal Judge Jeffrey White issued a stinging rebuke to the USDA for its process on approving new genetically modified seeds. He ruled that the agency’s practice of “deregulating” novel seed varieties without first performing an environmental impact study violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

To satisfy the legal system’s pesky demand for environmental impact studies of novel GMO crops, the USDA has settled upon a brilliant solution: let the GMO industry conduct its own environmental impact studies, or pay other researchers to. The USDA announced the program in the Federal Register for April 7, 2011 [PDF].

The biotech/agrichemical industry has applauded the new plan. Karen Batra of the Biotechnology Industry Organization told the Oregon-based ag journal Capital Press that the program will likely speed up the registration process for GMO crops and make the USDA’s approach less vulnerable to legal challenges like the rebuke from Judge White. Capital Press summed up Batra’s assessment of the plan like this: “The pilot program will not only help move crops through the process more quickly, but the added resources will also help the documents hold up in court.”

In other words, the industry plans to produce studies that find its novel products environmentally friendly, and fully expects the USDA to accept their assessments. Judge White had ruled that the USDA should be more rigorous in assessing the risks of new GMO crops, yet his decision seems to be having the opposite effect. No doubt the USDA’s latest scheme reflects the administration’s stated desire to not be too “burdensome” in regulating industry.

Even small companies separate the check signing function from the payment authorization function to insure no one is pocketing company funds. Allowing the industry to produce its own environmental assessments is tantamount to handing over the checkbook to someone who can make payments without any oversight.

Read Philpott’s original post here.

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