When Bill Wenzel goes to Washington, it’s not to visit the Lincoln Memorial or see the cherry blossoms. Wenzel is the national director of the Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering, a network of farm organizations formed in 1999 with the mission to provide a national voice for farmers on agricultural biotechnology issues. These days, Wenzel is tackling proposed changes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s rules on importation, interstate movement and environmental release of certain genetically engineered organisms.
The proposed changes were originally opened for public comment from Oct. 9 through Nov. 24, 2008. On Jan. 15, APHIS announced it was reopening the issue for further comment, through March 17.
Wenzel said the length of the original comment period “essentially disenfranchised” farm groups, who didn’t have time to put together thorough responses to the regulations.
“We want the whole issue of pharmaceutical and industrial crop field trials to be entirely rethought,” Wenzel said. “Our understanding was that there would be stricter regulations. Our understanding now [after seeing the proposed changes] is that they will actually be more lenient. That could have implications for both organic and conventional farmers.”
Among the concerns put forth by FFCGE are the proposed regulations’ non-compliance with 2007 Farm Bill mandates—including the requirement that representative seed samples be retained for testing in the case that non-genetically engineered crops are contaminated by genetically engineered crops, and the suggestion that some experimental GE crops will be exempted from regulations as the agency “becomes familiar with these GE organisms and conclude that the organisms do not pose a plant pest or noxious weed risk.”
To view the proposed regulations and comments, go to www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=DocketDetail&d=APHIS-2008-0023.