- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2003

New genetic crop rules create critics

The Agriculture Department has come up with new rules concerning the handling of crops grown from genetically modified seed for use in pharmaceuticals and already critics are picking it apart.

Federal farm officials said last week they were coming up with stricter rules to ensure that such crops are kept separate from crops intended for human consumption so as to protect the health of the general population.

Officials have been concerned following two incidents last year in Iowa and Nebraska where genetically modified crops being grown for pharmaceutical use indirectly came into contact with other crops, although federal officials insist no one was harmed.

But officials with both the food industry and environmental activists are concerned the new Agriculture Department plan does not go far enough.

The Grocery Manufacturers of America said the changes were a small step and not nearly sufficient in addressing the issue.

"Regulatory changes should be implemented before new permits (for growing such genetically altered crops) are issued," the group's lobbyist, Mary Sophos, said. "There is no room for trial and error in regulations."

Under the proposal, the Agriculture Department would inspect each test plot at least five times per growing season, and will require greater distances to be maintained between pharmaceutical crops and those crops meant for human consumption or animal feed.

Farmers also would be required to maintain separate planting and harvesting equipment, as well as keeping the equipment stored separately from equipment used on other crops.

Officials with the Center for Food Safety, which last week had threatened to sue the Agriculture Department if new rules were not made public soon, would not say whether they would back away from their legal threat as a result of the latest proposal.

But the Public Interest Research Group said it thinks the proposal does not clearly state that certain land should be permanently set aside for genetic crop use.

Attorney Richard Caplan said that without such restrictions, it would be possible for genetic crops to taint the soil they were grown in and have the unnatural characteristics of the crops spread to future human-intended crops grown on the same land.

"By allowing pharmaceuticals to be grown in food crops, it is just a matter of time before another mistake happens and contamination occurs again," he said.


Farm bureau concerned with WTO proposal

The American Farm Bureau Federation is concerned about the first draft of a farm trade proposal being considered by the World Trade Organization, saying it needs "significant improvements" if it is to reduce disparities among the organization's member nations.

Farm bureau President Bob Stallman sent a letter recently to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, saying the proposal as it now stands fails to achieve "any meaningful harmonization in the area of trade-distorting domestic supports."

He contends it maintains the same disparities the United States already faces in spending ratios with Japan and the European Union. Stallman also said the proposal takes too long to eliminate export subsidies, which are phased out over a 10-year period.

Stallman said the draft also fails to achieve the level of tariff harmonization that would be achieved by the U.S.-proposed "Swiss formula approach." The farm bureau also questioned a lack of commitment toward providing developing countries with market access.


Italians may be close to mad cow vaccine

Researchers from Padua University in Italy say they have found a protein similar to the prionic protein in mad cow disease that causes the creation of non-infective antibodies.

Officials with the university's veterinary science department said the discovery is a significant step towards developing a vaccine for the deadly livestock disease, although they say they are about four years away from having a vaccine ready for testing.

Researchers told the Veneto Agriculture journal tests have been done on mice and would soon move up to sheep and cows.


Ga. fines seafood dealer

Georgia Agriculture Department officials imposed a $114,000 fine against an Atlanta-based seafood dealer for allegedly receiving restricted-use oysters and handling them without proper certification.

Country Meat and Seafood will only be required to pay $12,000 of the fine up front. The rest will be suspended if they go for two years without any further violations.

A state investigation found the company was handling oysters labeled only for shucking by a certified dealer. Country Meat and Seafood was also operating without a shellfish sanitation certificate.


Cheatgrass risks the focus of forum

Nearly two dozen officials helped farmers try to understand the impact cheatgrass can have on livestock grazing, wildlife and ecological systems.

A Cheatgrass Awareness Conference sponsored recently by the Interior Department in Casper, Wyo., also tried to make farmers aware of the history of cheatgrass infestation, its potential risks to help wildfire spread more quickly, and current management and reclamation practices.

A task force comprised of representatives from local, state and federal agencies and private entities was formed to evaluate, prioritize and implement a number of action items suggested by the conference participants.


Grains mixed on CBOT

Grain futures were mixed at the close Friday on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Soybeans rose on a surge in buying activity toward the end of Friday's sessions.

Corn fell on a lack of any positive information and pressure from wheat.

Wheat fell on low soft red winter wheat export sales, spurred by a recent decision by Egypt to make a significant wheat purchase entirely from France, snubbing the U.S. crop.

Oats were higher.

The prices:

Soybeans: Mar 5.64 1/2 up 2, May 5.63 1/4 up 1, Jul 5.62 1/4 up 2, Aug 5.51 1/2 up 1.

Corn: Mar 2.39 3/4 unch, May 2.40 off 1/4, Jul 2.41 1/2 off 3/4, Sep 2.41 3/4 off 1/2.

Wheat: Mar 3.13 off 8, May 3.04 1/2 off 9 1/4, Jul 3.03 off 8 1/4, Sep 3.07 off 9.

Oats: Mar 2.15 3/4 up 3/4, May 1.89 3/4 up 2 3/4, Jul 1.77 up 1/2, Sep 1.61 up 2.

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