Members of the House Ag Committee are concerned or outright opposed to the plan suggested by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack relative to finding an agreement between GMO proponents and opponents -- a so-called "co-existence" policy.
The lawmaker views became evident during a public forum the panel held Thursday to explore the GMO approval process. Many lawmakers raised questions about the effort by Vilsack to find common ground between the two sides relative to GMO crops, with many expressing skepticism that even if such an agreement is reached, it would prevent further legal action by GMO opponents.
"It is my hope that USDA will use sound science to guide its decision-making process," House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said. "As we seek to find solutions to the challenges of identity preservation, it is important that we not pursue strategies that inhibit grower choice or pit producer against producer."
Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Ill.), chairman of the subcommittee overseeing biotechnology, asked Vilsack to cite the statute giving USDA the authority to issue a partial deregulation option. Johnson said Vilsack's response was a regulation, not a statute.
The panel's ranking member, Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said the effort by Vilsack is causing a lot of concern since it is coming while USDA is still making its final decision on GMO alfalfa. "I also don’t know if I share the Secretary’s optimism because some folks will use every tool possible to try and shut down biotech crops," he stated.
But Vilsack appeared undeterred. "I think we have to have this conversation," Vilsack told lawmakers. "This is not picking sides. This is asking how all aspects of agriculture prosper."
Still, Lucas said the session was important to make clear to Sec. Vilsack what the panel's views are. "We wanted to make sure the secretary understood it was important to follow the law," said Lucas, who said the proposed restrictions would set a bad precedent and "shift the financial burden from those who choose to produce organic to other producers who choose a different cropping system."