After rising exponentially in the mid-1980s, the first commercially grown GE crop, the Flavr Savr tomato, was approved for sale in the U.S. in 1994. Many farmers since then, adopted GE crops as their own, excited by the prospects of scientific advancement and financial reward.
GE crop testing declined rapidly in 2003 in response to the first lawsuit. "Before that time, APHIS was dealing with a pretty heavy case load," says McGinnis. "Their compliance with NEPA may have slipped and left them vulnerable to lawsuits."
NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, is a U.S. national policy that was established in 1969 to promote environmental protection. NEPA requires environmental agencies to keep an in-depth administrative record of their actions that validates the agency's rationale in reaching regulatory decisions. The lack of transparency in creating these administrative records has been a point of criticism APHIS has faced in recent years.
McGinnis and her fellow researchers also pointed out that many of the lawsuits used in their study demonstrate that APHIS failed to differentiate between traditional GE crops, such as corn, soybeans, and cotton, and new GE crops presenting considerable regulatory challenges.
Take the genetic engineering of creeping bentgrass, for example. This weedy, wind-pollinated perennial raises unique gene flow concerns that aren't seen in more traditional herbicide-tolerant crops. APHIS has failed to distinguish novel GE crops like this one and hold them to the rigorous evaluation standards required by environmental law, which has led to lawsuits that have grounded the GE crop regulatory process to a halt.
"APHIS needs to prioritize its resources. It needs to be spending more time regulating novel crops," says McGinnis. "I'm certainly not advocating more regulation of traditional agronomic crops. Really, it's about focusing on these novel crops that raise more issues."
|Contact: Teri Barr|
American Society of Agronomy