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You Can Influence the Department of Agriculture's Environmental Impact Statement

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced they will be developing an environmental impact statement for genetically engineered crops. As the saying goes, better late than never. But wouldn't it have been smart to conduct such an environmental impact statement years ago before allowing millions of acres of genetically engineered crops to be planted? In 2003, U.S. farmers grew over 100 million acres of genetically engineered crops, mostly corn, soy and cotton.

As I posted yesterday, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences released a 219-page report on Tuesday titled "Biological Confinement of Genetically Engineered Organisms." The report was quite critical of the current safeguards in place. It is likely that the USDA announcement coming two days after the National Academy of Sciences report is more than just a coincidence. The USDA has come under growing criticism over their policies regarding biotech crops and the evidence is mounting that the current regulations are inadequate.

It is wonderful that the USDA is going to develop an environmental impact statement. However, the very real possibility exists that the USDA may actually use the environmental impact statement to reduce the oversight of many genetically engineered crops. The USDA expects to create a draft document by the end of the year. There is an opportunity for us to express our concerns. For the next 60 days, the USDA will be accepting consumer comments about their plans for an environmental impact statement. The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods will provide a forum for you to do so at their new Web site on Monday. I will post this again next week to remind you to use this tool to contact the USDA.

Washington Post January 23, 2004; Page A02

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