In the wake of the controversial unconditional deregulation of Monsanto's genetically modified alfalfa seeds, the USDA has announced plans to allow biotech companies to conduct their own Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) instead of those commissioned by the USDA.
The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has been responsible for conducting EIS evaluations up until now. The studies are designed to assess the potential risks of biotech crops to both the environment and human health, and a federal law requires APHIS to complete reviews before deregulation of any genetically modified biotech seeds are allowed.
In the new program, companies would conduct the crucial studies themselves, which is designed to make the process more efficient, according to APHIS, giving agency representatives "more time to review the findings" rather than conducting the assays, says David Reinhold, Assistant Director for the Environmental Risk Analysis at APHIS.
The proposed program has opponents of the GM industry concerned that the self-testing will lead to biased conclusions—and potentially dangerous results—that serve only the interest of the biotech giants. Companies such as Monsanto, who makes the patented Roundup Ready seeds designed to tolerate high levels of the glyphosate pesticide, contribute to the growing number of genetically modified ingredients found in more than 80 percent of processed and packaged non-organic food items, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
In addition to numerous risks to farmers and the environment through the spread of patented genetically modified seeds, recent studies have also linked consuming GM foods to a number of serious health risks that may cause damage to vital organs including the kidneys, liver and reproductive systems.
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