Tuesday, December 20, 2011

USDA Wants Monsanto To Conduct Their Own Environmental Reviews, Good Or Bad?

The USDA, which oversees production of genetically engineered (GE) crops, is:
"... training the world's biggest biotech firms, including Monsanto, BASF and Syngenta, to conduct environmental reviews of their own transgenic seed products.

... testing new cost-sharing agreements that allow biotech firms to help pay private contractors to prepare mandatory environmental statements on GE plants.

This would eliminate a critical level of oversight for the production of GE crops.

Activists say biotech firms like Monsanto are concerned only with profit and routinely supply regulators with one-sided information.

Bill Freese, a policy expert with the Center for Food Safety (CFS):
"It's the equivalent of letting BP do their own Environmental Assessment of a new rig."
- From: EXCLUSIVE: Under Industry Pressure, USDA Works To Speed Approval Of Monsanto's Genetically Engineered Crops, Truthout, 12 December 2011
Where the world stands:
  • The US promotes biotech (both Obama and Bush).
  • China, Argentina, and Brazil have embraced biotech.
  • Europe, including France and Spain, have been cautious, in some cases hostile towards biotech.  Europe labels its food, US does not.
  • GE crops are banned in Hungary and Peru [and Ireland].
What do you think?  My first reaction: not a good idea.  On second thought, maybe it's not that bad.  I guess these are the options:
  1. Allow biotech plants to go to market without more in-depth environmental reviews.
  2. Suspend commercial planting of biotech until the government can complete environmental reviews.
  3. Farm out the job of environmental review - let someone pay for it besides the taxpayer.
  4. Increase USDA resources.  Raise taxes?  Reallocate?  Borrow?
The USDA, I imagine, doesn't have the resources, even though they have the mandate, to conduct Environmental Impact Statements on every biotech plant.  So options 1, 2, and 4 would result in no in-depth review, not anytime soon.  But Biotech, I imagine, spent way too much on research and development not to bring these plants to market, sometime soon.  Having Monsanto do their own review is smelly.  But some review is better than no review.  It may also mean USDA is privy to more industry facts, figures, and finaglings than if they conducted their own independent reviews.
Photo of Roundup Ready Soybeans from Monsanto's site.


caulfieldkid said...

I see your points. I would like to think it could be farmed out. Make the companies pay for independent reviews from third party companies. But I don't know that it would take much for those companies to end up corrupt too.

Having them do the studies is a lesser evil perhaps?


RB said...

Monsanto has a very checked record. I don't trust them. They are just worried about the bottom line. I think any result from Monsanto would be suspect.

A truly independent organization should conduct the review. Government is suppose to that organization. However, government scientist have been overruled by the politician when it comes to GM crops.

It wouldn't be wrong for government to make companies apply for environmental review and have the application fee cover the cost of environmental testing. After all, a company like Monsanto is only creating GM crops to make a profit. Why should tax payers have to pay to prove if there crop is safe? A company should prove their product is safe before it goes on the market. I don't think self testing is a convincing way to prove a product is safe.

Of course making any testing regime free of corruption, manipulation, or political influence is another matter.

Bix said...

That phrase, "Monsanto is only creating GM crops to make a profit," rang in my ear when I read it. I find myself thinking that businesses care. It's lazy thinking, because businesses aren't people, even though they are made of people. Businesses make money. When businesses stop making money, they die. I have to keep reminding myself of that!

I'm reading The Jungle. I cannot believe what the meat industry did without oversight. I can't believe it. I know that people say we should get rid of the FDA and the oversight we put in place since then (like OSHA and FDIC). I know they say businesses could never return to those practices. That businesses care. (But businesses aren't people.) Maybe they are right. But I see new practices taking their place. I mean, who really knows the risks of genetic engineering, nanotechnology, chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors, hundreds of other new drugs and chemicals that have infiltrated our environment in recent decades? All these things may help businesses make money. But, as in The Jungle, they may not be good for people's health.

caulfieldkid said...

I'm reminded of the phrase, "locking the door keeps honest people honest."

As you state, Bix, companies are not people. They are not inherently good. They are inherently designed to create wealth for their investors.

I'm going to go ahead and side with RB. Make the industries pay for independent review. Would it clean all of the messes up? No, but just knowing that someone is watching you often influences the decisions that you make. It would keep the companies, that say they are interested in doing what's right, ethical.

Sometimes you can't start by trying to create a perfect system. Sometimes you have to take the best option present and move forward from there.

Angela and Melinda said...

I think it's a terrible idea (see my comment on regulation in the your post on The Jungle, Part 4).