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Aug 19, 2010

U.S. Congressional Hearing - Are Superweeds An Outgrowth of USDA Biotech Policy?

On 19 August 2010 Southeast Farm Press reported on a U.S. Congressional hearing in the sub-committee on Domestic Policy Oversight (part of the Committee on Government Oversight) held on 28 July 2010 to investigate resistance to herbicide tolerance (HT) biotechnology, "escaping" gene modified (GM) crops, and the possible development of superweeds. 

The hearings, entitled "Are Superweeds an Outgrowth of USDA Biotech Policy?" were chaired by U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).  They included testimony from farmers, university researchers and anti-GM food groups.  This included Troy Roush, an Indiana farmer who is vice president of the National Corn Grower Association and was involved in a 2000 lawsuit with Monsanto. 

Roush testified that "bigger farms with multiple herbicide resistance problems are in great danger ... The increased ease of use and convenience of herbicide tolerant crops enabled many farmers to significantly increase crop acreage which helped to offset higher production costs and, in some cases, lower yields.  Biotech companies encouraged farm expansion by offering discounts for buying seed in bulk. ... Farmers who expanded farm size are now finding it difficult, if not impossible, to manage the larger operations now that additional time is required for weed management.

As noted in the original article, "The driving force behind the congressional look into super weeds is the Center for Food Safety (CFS), which is a project of the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA). CFS is headed by Andrew Kimbrell, who was mentored by Jeremy Rifkin at the Foundation on Economic Trends."

Kimbrell, an attorney, is founder and head of Center for Food Safety.  This organization filed the lawsuit in California that resulted in the recent ban on HT sugar beets.  Kimbrell also testified at this July hearing, placing "much of the blame on development and proliferation of super weeds at the feet of the U.S. Department of Agriculture."  He also noted that “[r]egulation of GM crops has in part been defined by judicial decisions in lawsuits brought by CFS and others on behalf of farmers, consumers, and environmental groups. American agriculture cannot afford such “regulation by litigation,” an approach that has become standard operating procedure at USDA."

Herbicide tolerant (HT) are widely planted in the United States.  HT and other biotechnologies now account for the following percentages of the U.S. acreage in: corn (85%), soy (91%), cotton (88%), canola (85%) and sugar beets (95%).

HT soybeans are currently grown mostly in the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and other South American countries, accounting for 70 percent of worldwide soybean production."

At the end of the hearings, Rep. Kucinich stated, “the Agriculture Department (USDA) has been too quick to approve new varieties of herbicide-tolerant crops and other biotech products."

In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on its first GM case.  It concluded that the federal judge's injunction (ban) on planting GM alfalfa was an abuse of judicial discretion.  The USDA is currently conducting two detailed environmental impact studies on herbicide tolerance (HT) technology and resistance to glyphosate following lawsuits regarding GM alfalfa and GM sugar beets.  In the GM alfalfa case, the Supreme Court ruled that the USDA had the authority to approve GM crops while conducting ongoing environmental impact studies.

For more see related blogs:

US Federal Judge Places National Ban on HT Sugar Beets, 16 August 2010.

U.S. Supreme Court Lifts Ban on HT Alfalfa, 22 June 2010.

WSJ: Superweeds Trigger New Arms Race, 4 June 2010.

For original documents see:
Roberson, Roy. "Super weeds put USDA on hotseat," Southeast Farm Press, 19 August 2010.

U.S. Congress, Committe on Government Oversight and Reform, Domestic Policy Oversight Sub-Committee, “Are Superweeds an Outgrowth of USDA Biotech Policy.” 28 July 2010. (includes transcripts of witness testimony and related documentation/videos).

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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