- Legal Industry
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December 31, 2011
For many years, opponents of biotech agriculture have kept on accusing regulators of working really close with large biotech firms whenever they are in the process of deregulating genetically engineered (GE) crops. Today however, their worst fears might just come true. There is now a USDA two-year pilot program where regulators train the largest biotech companies to carry out environmental reviews of their own seed products. This is a part of the deregulation process of the government.
This will then eliminate one of the most critical levels of oversight in GE crop production. New cost-sharing agreements are also being tested out by regulators, which would allow these biotech firms to assist in paying private contractors to draw up environmental statements which are mandatory on plants producing GE crops, which the USDA is planning to deregulate.
The pilot project was launched in April by the USDA, and it planned to streamline the process for filing petitions for GE organisms. According to the spokesperson of USDA, the streamlining is not considered as part of the pilot project, however, both efforts seem to address pending GE crop deregulation petitions that were backlogged, which actually angered large biotech firms that wanted to release new products to the market.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, Truthout was able to obtain documents that reveal that industry groups, lawmakers and biotech companies put so much pressure on the USDA to speed up the process of petitions, that environmental impact assessments should be limited, and that more GE crops have to be approved. There was a even a single group that went out of its way to send a timeline of the development of a GE soybean to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
NEPA Pilot Project was the name of the pilot program, taken after National Environmental Policy Act, which mandated that a statement on potential environmental impact of proposed deregulation by the federal government be prepared.
According to Bill Freese, a policy expert with the Center for Food and Safety, “It’s the equivalent of letting BP do their own Environmental Assessment of a new rig.”