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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  April 2007

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE April 2007

Subject:

Pew-USDA report intended to weaken GM regulations

From:

Robt Mann <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 12 Apr 2007 15:11:24 +1200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (175 lines)

Comments on the report 'Emerging Challenges for Biotech Specialty Crops' from
1.GM Watch
2.Dr Doug Gurian-Sherman

EXTRACTS: Pew's final report contains little more than USDA-industry 
wish lists for further weakening US regulations (and, thereby, 
putting pressure on international regulations, e.g. at Codex). - GM 
Watch (item 1)

The workshop recognizes that USDA is in the middle of re-evaluating 
its regulations, and may make sweeping changes in the near future. 
This report is explicitly intended to influence that process. - Dr 
Doug Gurian-Sherman (item 2)

What is particularly insidious about this is that ... Pew has passed 
itself off as constructively reflecting the various positions on 
biotech.  So when it makes pronouncements, or publishes reports like 
this, there's a real danger that those who don't follow this closely 
will assume that what it has to say somehow reflects broad consensus 
opinions. - GM Watch (item 1)

---

1.Comments on the report Emerging Challenges for Biotech Specialty 
Crops - GM Watch
http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=7721

Below are some very telling comments from Dr Doug Gurian-Sherman of 
the Union of Concerned Scientists, and a former biotech specialist 
for the EPA, about a report on the regulation of GM specialty crops.

The report is extremely important, as Dr Gurian-Sherman makes clear, 
because it's intended to help shape future GM regulations in the US 
for all crops, and to make them even more industry friendly than the 
notoriously lax regulatory system that currently exists.

The report is the work of the Pew Initiative on Food and 
Biotechnology. Although the Pew Initiative concluded its work at the 
end of March 2007, its various reports, not least this final one, 
live on. In the words of Michael Fernandez, Pew's Executive Director, 
the Pew Initiative is all about being "a credible 'honest broker' 
that could bring together stakeholders of differing views to discuss 
the opportunities and challenges that agricultural biotechnology 
presents.  Through its reports, fact sheets, polls and conferences, 
the project served as a respected information source on ag biotech 
and related policy issues for policymakers, educators, the public and 
the media in the U.S. and globally."  And Fernandez says he hopes 
their reports "will be a valuable resource in the years to come."
http://pewagbiotech.org

But the final report from Pew shows just how misleading Pew's 
self-representation as an impartial go-between looking for the 
consensual middle ground, and bringing an open-minded approach to all 
sides of the debate, really is.

The report on GM specialty crops is a joint one from Pew and and the 
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the US 
Department of Agriculture (USDA) - something that should of itself 
raise questions given USDA's notoriously partisan record as a 
regulator.  On top of that, as Dr Gurian-Sherman notes below, the 
meetings that led up to the report were packed with industry and 
academic scientists that are all known to have a long history of 
being very pro-GM and to support weaker regulations.
http://pewagbiotech.org/events/0118/

The only public interest representative at these meetings was Greg 
Jaffe of CSPI - the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  CSPI 
has, like the Pew Initiative, won big funding to "constructively 
engage" in the GM debate.  As PR Watch has pointed out, after years 
of sitting on the sidelines in the GM debate, CSPI in the wake of its 
biotech funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, promptly set about 
praising the alleged benefits and safety of GM foods.

And while Greg Jaffe has raised questions around regulatory issues, 
these are more than offset by his promotion of the so-called 
"tremendous" benefits of GM, and his and CSPI's loud complaints in 
their most recent reports about the slow pace of GM crop approvals! 
Jaffe has even backed the elimination of the separate regulation of 
each GM transformation event and he has called for the streamlining 
(i.e. speeding up!) of the regulatory process (see, for example, 
Agricultural Biotechnology Withering on the Vine)
http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=4867

Unsurprisingly, given the extraordinarily narrow range of 
stakeholders consulted and the striking similarity of their views, 
Pew's final report contains little more than USDA-industry wish lists 
for further weakening US regulations (and, thereby, putting pressure 
on international regulations, e.g. at Codex).

What is particularly insidious about this is that, as we've noted, 
Pew has passed itself off as constructively reflecting the various 
positions on biotech.  So when it makes pronouncements, or publishes 
reports like this, there's a real danger that those who don't follow 
this closely will assume that what it has to say somehow reflects 
broad consensus opinions.

Read the report at
http://pewagbiotech.org/events/0118/WorkshopReport.pdf

---

2.  Dr Doug Gurian-Sherman's comments on the report Emerging 
Challenges for Biotech Specialty Crops
http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=7721

As well as the many industry representatives behind this report, 
there are also long-familiar GE-promoters like Alan McHughen of UC 
Riverside, Steve Strauss of Oregon State University, Bruce Chassey of 
University of Illinois, etc.  Then there are people like Karen 
Hokanson, formerly of USDA, now at University of Minnesota, and 
people with a biotech industry background like Jeff Wolt, now at Iowa 
State but formerly with Dow Chemical/Dow AgroSciences, or Hector 
Quemada, now at Western Michigan University but formerly Associate 
Director for Biotechnology for the Asgrow Seed Company and the 
founder of an ag biotech consulting firm that does work for the 
private sector.  There is no one I recognise who has been seriously 
critical of any aspects of GE.

And the report reflects the one-sided input - sometimes to an almost 
bizarre degree.  For instance, although ostensibly about smaller 
specialty crops, there were representatives of companies like Forage 
Genetics (alfalfa), and Symplot (potatoes).  Representatives from 
both of those companies are quoted in this report.  For example, on 
page 12, the Forage Genetics reepresentative complains about the slow 
process for approving RoundupReady alfalfa.  The Pew meeting was, of 
course, prior to the recent ruling by the US District Court 
overturning the alfalfa approval because of the lack of regulatory 
rigour!  But in any case, alfalfa is one of the biggest acreage crops 
in the US (at about 21 million acres) so is by no means a "specialty 
crop," and this gives the lie to claims that this report is about 
helping biotech developments in relation to small crops.

The fact is that the proposed changes in regulations would likely 
affect all crops (as actually acknowledged later in the report).  The 
main beneficiaries would be the large acreage crops, which in any 
case will continue to dominate GE because the main problem is not the 
supposedly awful burden of what are in reality overly lax 
regulations, but the very high R&D cost and the long time it takes to 
develop these crops, not to mention the fact that many of these crops 
have not really worked very well (where are the drought resistant 
crops promised for the last 15 years?).

The report pushes old favorites of the pro-GE cabal that have been 
around for years.  For example, Steve Strauss's idea of reducing or 
eliminating regulation of so-called "low risk" GE, through a tiered 
risk system.  This often fails to take into account the importance of 
environmental context - focusing on the risk of "genes," as if they 
existed in a vacuum.  Strauss has over and over used genes for 
short-stature (dwarf) plants as an example of safe genes, while 
ignoring the fact that short stature is actually favored in many 
environments, e.g. fragile alpine ecosystems.  It also fails to 
understand that many genes are associated with multiple phenotypes 
(traits), where some of these may be unrecognized by companies or 
regulators, and have important environmental or health consequences. 
Another proposal is to eliminate regulation based on transformation 
event (even though each event can have unique unintended effects). 
As noted on page 11, this could lead to "... whole categories that 
are excluded or exempted from the regulatory process."

There is a long discussion about transparency, but not as most would 
define it.  Instead of opening the regulatory process in a democratic 
manner that lets the public see data and participate, this discussion 
is about how to make the regulatory process MORE TRANSPARENT TO 
BUSINESS AND RESEARCHERS by giving them support and help.  It is fine 
to make sure that researchers know the regulations, but what about 
making sure that the public can see the safety data instead of hiding 
behind "confidential business information"?

The workshop recognizes that USDA is in the middle of re-evaluating 
its regulations, and may make sweeping changes in the near future. 
This report is explicitly intended to influence that process.  It can 
perhaps best be summed up by the representative of Forage Genetics, 
who had the last word about US regulations: "Define the process, 
compress it, simplify, commit and do not regress."

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