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The Truth about Trade

RSS By: Dean Kleckner, AgWeb.com

Dean is Chairman Emeritus of 'Truth About Trade & Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group led by a volunteer board of American farmers.

A Call For Common Sense Biotech Crop Regulation

Aug 11, 2011

By Ted Sheely – Lemoore, California

Once a year, I file an application with the federal government for my water supply. If I miss the deadline by just a day, my farm in California’s Central Valley won’t receive even a trickle of water for crop irrigation. Nothing will grow and my livelihood will be ruined.
 
So I always make sure this paperwork is done properly and submitted ahead of schedule. Perhaps you experience something similar on April 15, as you scramble to pay taxes.
 
It would be nice if the government returned the favor by performing important work in a timely manner.
 
Unfortunately, its refusal to do so now threatens our country’s economy and food security.
 
Federal regulators are supposed to take about six months to approve new biotech crop traits that benefit both farmers and consumers. This is according to the government’s own guidelines. In reality, the process now takes an average of almost three years.
 
Instead of trying to speed up this dawdling performance, however, Washington may allow the Environmental Protection Agency to build new hurdles that will turn a bad situation worse, threatening our country’s economy and food security.
 
It shouldn’t be this way. President Obama said so earlier this year, in his State of the Union address. He announced a review of government regulations “to reduce barriers to growth and investment.” Then he made a promise: “When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on business, we will fix them.”
 
Obama should fix the delays in biotech crop approvals immediately.
 
Biotechnology has revolutionized farming, allowing us to grow more food on less land and at lower costs. It has strengthened our nation’s food supply and energized rural economies. For years, the United States has led the world in the research, development, and commercialization of these outstanding products. We’re on the verge of even greater progress, as scientists develop crops with traits such as drought tolerance and the benefits of biotechnology spread to minor crops.
 
Yet instead of capitalizing on this success, we’re letting our competitive advantage slip away. Last year, Brazil approved eight new biotech traits for corn, soybeans, and cotton, according to Agri-Pulse. The United States managed to approve only two new traits. At this rate, a dozen years will pass before the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) gets through the 24 applications it already has pending. A petition submitted this year would receive an answer in 2023.
 
The delays will grow even longer if the EPA gets involved, adding redundancy to inefficiency. America’s leading scientists agree.
 
“The increased regulatory burdens that would result from this expansion would impose steep barriers to scientific innovation and product development across all sectors of our economy and would not only fail to enhance safety, but would likely prolong reliance on less safe and obsolete practices,” wrote a group of 60 scientists, including two Nobel laureates, to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson last month.
 
We must restore common sense to biotech regulations.
 
If you’re late for your job, the boss docks your pay. If you’re late for school, the teacher marks you tardy. If you’re late with your mortgage, the bank charges extra.
 
Yet the federal government can ignore its own self-imposed regulatory deadlines. Fortunately, a first-term member of Congress has proposed a bill that offers a solution that merits discussion.
 
Rep. Stephen Fincher is from a town with an improbable name: Frog Jump. It’s a real place--and Fincher has suggested a way for biotech crops to leapfrog a sluggish regulatory process. His legislation would require APHIS to make a decision on crop applications within 180 days (or a little longer if reasonable extensions are required).
 
“As a farmer myself, I understand that a more efficient approval process will result in increased investment and jobs,” says Fincher.
 
Best of all, this legislation would boost our lousy economy at no cost to taxpayers or the government. At a time of 9 percent unemployment and shattered debt ceilings, it may not be the perfect solution but it’s a creative and potentially effective response to a nagging problem.
 
Fincher proposes a deadline but what he’s really offering is a lifeline.
 
Ted Sheely raises lettuce, cotton, tomatoes, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic on a family farm in the California San Joaquin Valley. He is a board member of Truth About Trade and Technology www.truthabouttrade.org
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