Department of Agriculture Will Speed Up Approval of Genetically Modified Crops

By: Justin Chan

Several days after the United States and Europe agreed on a pact that will recognize each other's certified organic products, the United States Department of Agriculture announced that it will speed up approval of genetically modified crops.

According to BusinessWeek, seed companies such as Monsanto Co. will get faster regulatory reviews of their crops under the new policy changes. Michael Gregoire, USDA's deputy administrator, said that the department plans to cut the time needed to approve biotech crops by half. Under the new guidelines, upgraded versions of current crop technologies will be reviewed for at least 13 months. New technologies will be reviewed for approximately 16 months. The changes are expected to take place this month, once they are published in the Federal Register.

"If you can reduce the approval time, you get sales that much faster,"  said Jeff Windau, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co. "It could be significant for the companies like Monsanto and DuPont." The approvals used to take six months but have since lengthened because of legal challenges and increased public interest. Farmers have expressed uneasiness about the effects of a lengthened approval, which, they believe, could put them at a disadvantage against competitors abroad. Countries such as Brazil have been quicker to approve biotech products.

The USDA said it will invite the public to voice their opinion as companies, such as Monsanto, file a petition for the deregulation of a biotech crop. As Gregoire noted, this will allow the department to address any concerns while it conducts its risk assessment. "We can improve the quality of decisions by providing for this earlier public input in the process," he said. "We are not sacrificing quality at all."

Others, however, have claimed that the department's real motive is to ignore the criticism over its handling of regulating modified crops. "They are trying to work the system so they can dismiss public comments more quickly and easily in order to speed things up," said Bill Freese, a policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety. "It's a rubber-stamp system. A real regulatory system will occasionally reject something."

Photo: tillwe

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