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POLICY & REGULATION: USDA seeks public comment on draft programmatic environmental impact statement on GE organisms




                                  PART 1


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TITLE:  USDA SEEKS PUBLIC COMMENT ON DRAFT PROGRAMMATIC ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture, USA

AUTHOR: Press Release

URL:    http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/content/2007/07/drafteis.shtml

DATE:   12.07.2007

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USDA SEEKS PUBLIC COMMENT ON DRAFT PROGRAMMATIC ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT

WASHINGTON, July 12, 2007--The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service today announced the availability of a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) that evaluates potential revisions to existing regulations regarding the importation, interstate movement and environmental release of genetically engineered (GE) organisms.

”Over the past 15 years, APHIS has regularly reviewed and revised its biotechnology regulations to ensure they remain grounded in the latest science and are robust enough to keep pace with the demands of technology,” said W. Ron DeHaven, administrator of APHIS.

In January 2004, APHIS publicly announced it was beginning a review of its regulations and published a notice of intent to prepare an EIS. The notice identified potential issues and alternatives to be studied in the EIS and requested public comment to further shape the scope of the issues and alternatives.

Today’s publication of the draft programmatic EIS is a crucial step in the overall regulatory revision process. The draft EIS outlines several key areas APHIS is evaluating and seeking public comments on, including expanding APHIS’ regulatory scope through additional provisions in the Plant Protection Act (PPA) of 2000, utilizing a tiered permitting system based on potential environmental risk and implementing a process for continued oversight of crops that do not meet the criteria for deregulation.

Input received regarding these areas and all aspects of the draft EIS will enable APHIS to make an informed decision regarding any possible future changes to the regulations. Ultimately, APHIS will formulate a proposed rule based on information in the draft EIS, the latest scientific information and public comments.

Because the public is a key partner in the EIS process, APHIS is scheduling four public meetings in August in the Washington, D.C. area, Missouri and California, to allow interested parties to express their views in person. Meeting dates and locations will be published in a separate Federal Register notice in the near future.

APHIS is committed to an open and transparent regulatory process that takes all comments into consideration and reflects the latest science, while continuing to protect America’s agricultural and natural resources.

APHIS’ broad biotechnology regulatory authority falls under the scope of the PPA, which has combined and modernized the various authorities under which APHIS safeguards domestic plant resources and regulated GE organisms, including the Federal Plant Pest Act and the Plant Quarantine Act.

The draft EIS is available on the APHIS Web site at http://www.aphis.usda.gov.

Notice of this action is scheduled for publication next week in the Federal Register.

APHIS invites comments on this notice and the draft EIS. Consideration will be given to comments beginning July 13, and all comments must be received on or before Sept. 11. Send an original and three copies of postal mail or commercial delivery comments to Docket No. APHIS-2006-0112, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, Md. 20737-1238. If you wish to view the draft EIS or submit a comment using the Internet, go to the Federal eRulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov, select ”Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service” from the agency drop-down menu; then click on ”Submit.” In the Docket ID column, select APHIS-2006-0112 to submit or view public comments and to view the draft EIS and the supporting and related materials available electronically.

Comments are posted on the Regulations.gov Web site and may also be viewed at USDA, Room 1141, South Building, 14th St. and Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C., between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. To facilitate entry into the comment reading room, please call (202) 690-2817.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:  U.S. TO MULL CHANGES TO OVERSIGHT OF BIOTECH CROPS

SOURCE: Reuters

AUTHOR: Christopher Doering

URL:    http://www.reuters.com/article/scienceNews/idUSN1241069220070712

DATE:   12.07.2007

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U.S. TO MULL CHANGES TO OVERSIGHT OF BIOTECH CROPS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. oversight of genetically modified crops, which critics charge is insufficient, may be overhauled following a series of proposed changes released on Thursday by the Agriculture Department.

Cindy Smith, associate administrator with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said any revisions it makes to its existing framework would be ”the first comprehensive review of our regulatory structure” for genetically engineered crops.

One change USDA is considering would abandon the existing two-tiered permit system in favor of a multilevel one.

The new system would provide more stringent review for plants with which USDA is less familiar, or those that may pose an increased risk, such as plants that produce substances not intended for food use. Plants engineered for herbicide tolerance or insect resistance would be less complicated.

The proposed changes would ”expand our regulatory oversight while at the same time minimizing our regulatory burden for those (genetically engineered) organisms that have been safety field tested for more than 20 years,” said Rebecca Bech, an acting deputy administrator at APHIS.

USDA is also considering expanding its oversight to include organisms that have the potential to become noxious weeds. This would increase review of genetically engineered organisms that may damage crops to include plants that pose a broader risk to agriculture, the environment and public health.

The draft environmental impact statement, which evaluates potential revisions to existing regulations, will be open to public comment for 60 days starting on Friday.

The draft, public comments and further scientific information will be used to create a proposed rule. USDA first announced in 2004 it was beginning a review of its biotech regulations.

Consumer groups, environmentalists and organic farmers oppose biotech crops, which they fear could mix with other crops or develop super weeds resistant to herbicides. They said the current system was not working and was in need of a major overhaul to better protect farmers, consumers and the environment.

”We welcome the fact that USDA is attempting an overhaul of its regulations, the question is going to be, as always, the devil will be in the details,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

”We are concerned given the record of this agency over the least few years that we’re worried they may go in the wrong direction,” he added.

Currently, USDA no longer has oversight of a plant once it is deregulated and determined to be safe.

”We’re exploring whether a different type of system might be applicable,” said John Turner, another biotechnology official at APHIS.

”You might envision a system where certain things would be unconditionally approved ... whereas others might be approved with conditions,” he said.

A string of court cases has criticized USDA oversight. In May, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer upheld a ban on the planting of a genetically modified alfalfa crop variety developed by Monsanto Co. until government studies on its environmental effects were concluded.

The judge found in a preliminary injunction that U.S. regulators had not properly examined the effects of the alfalfa before allowing it to be commercialized.

A separate ruling in February by a District of Columbia judge found ”substantial evidence that the field tests may have had the potential to affect significantly the quality of the human environment.”


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