GM Alfalfa at the center of congressional committee meeting

The first Agriculture Committee meeting of the 112th Congress held a public forum on January 21, 2011 to unofficially review and discuss the regulatory approval process on biotechnology, specifically Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready Alfalfa, which has been at the center of recent debates.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has called for both sides of the GM debate to ‘work together’ on this issue, testified, as did Chuck Conner, President of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.

Frank Lucas (R-OK), the committee’s Chairman began the forum in showing his support of the alfalfa, suggesting both the USDA and FDA have proven the safety in the crop, and called for deregulation. He said the Plant Protection Act does not give the agencies the right to present a barrier to deregulate the crop, only to test for its safety. Later, during questions, Secretary Vilsack was noted  saying the agencies do have power of regulation.

Chairman Lucas said that while he supports the growing demand for organic crops, he does not support “limiting farmer options”—or forcing them to grow organic, and he would also not support any proposals to have the cost of dealing with contaminated organic crops be the burden of farmers who plant the GM seeds.

Secretary Vilsack’s statement reiterated his support of GM crops, stating biotech seeds have been “proven safe” and their role is vital to food, fuel and fiber production. Vilsack also recognized the growth in organic, citing its benefit to America’s rural economies.

Chuck Connor, President of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, whose organization represents many organic farmers, called for discussions about “coexistence,” but also urged the Committee to keep in mind the numbers, stating that up to 50 percent of land being exposed to contamination by GM crops, could effectively be taken out of commission.

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Photo: M Glasgow