The House Agriculture Committee conducted a public forum January 20, 2011, to discuss matters relating to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s anticipated action on the deregulation of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa. The agency has proposed several options, including partially deregulating GE alfalfa and establishing isolation distances and geographic limits on where the crop is grown. According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, this option “mirrors a healthy and productive conversation between GE, non-GE and organic interests that is already underway in the industry and continues to evolve.”

Republican House members, including committee chair Frank Lucas (Okla.), are concerned about the “increasingly troublesome delays” in the regulatory approval process for GE crops. Lucas also emphasized that USDA’s authority over GE crops and plants does not extend to “rhetorical concerns advanced by activist groups.” Because USDA determined that GE alfalfa does not pose a quantifiable plant pest risk, Lucas contended, “This should be the end of the debate. A product that has been repeatedly found to be safe should be deregulated.” Lucas argued that the partial deregulation option was developed “to prevent future lawsuits,” and as such “is a political objective … outside the scope of legal authority.” See House Agriculture Committee Press Release, January 20, 2011.