Three congressional Republicans assert that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has no authority to weigh economic factors in conducting an environmental review for genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Plant Protection Act. In a January 19, 2011, letter submitted to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, they vilify him for including an option that would impose geographic restrictions and isolation distances on the crop. House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) contend that the option was included in the final environmental impact statement (EIS) solely “to interfere in planting decisions based on the risk of economic harm due to pollen drift.”
According to the congressmen, the option “is a poor substitute for existing options available to farmers to amicably resolve the concerns regarding co-existence of agriculture biotechnology, conventional and organic crops.” They also claim that “the implications of such decisions could potentially hinder the future development of varieties necessary to address the growing needs to produce more food, fiber and fuel on the same amount of land with fewer inputs.” The letter criticizes litigants and the courts for “unwisely interfer[ing] in normal commerce,” without otherwise discussing the cases that led to orders requiring USDA to conduct an EIS for GE crops several years after deregulating them. See House Agriculture Committee Press Release, January 19, 2011.