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USDA Mulls Voluntary Scheme
for GE Crop Segregation

USDA mulls program verifying bio-free US crops
2002-08-06 17:31:15 GMT (Reuters)
By Randy Fabi

WASHINGTON, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Amid growing global demand for biotech-free
crops, the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Tuesday it may create a testing
system to verify if shipments of U.S. farm exports were genetically altered.
The action comes as the United States begins market-opening talks with its
World Trade Organization partners, many of whom oppose or are ambivalent
about biotech crops.

The USDA said it will soon propose a voluntary federal program to ensure
grains, oilseeds, rice and seed products were not inadvertently exposed to
genetically modified crops.

The United States is the world's largest producer of crops that are
genetically modified to make them resistant to pests, or to withstand herbicides
that kill nearby weeds.

Critics of biotech crops, which include the European Union, China and a
growing number of African countries, say not enough research has been done
to ensure the new technology was safe for the environment and public health.

"The emergence of value-enhanced commodities and a niche market for
non-biotechnology-derived commodities have created a greater need to
differentiate products in the handling system," USDA said in a Federal
Register notice.

Under the proposed program, USDA would verify that minimum requirements
for crop production, handling and processing were followed.

USDA did not elaborate on the program since a formal proposal for the new
system was not expected for a few months.

A USDA spokesman said the industry-funded program would be similar to the
federal inspection system for the meat industry. Meat companies create their
own food safety program, which is approved and monitored by federal inspectors.
The new system "will be flexible enough to incorporate, where appropriate,
already existing standards and procedures such as those developed by private
organizations," USDA said.

"At the same time, the program will have sufficient safeguards to ensure the
integrity of its results," the department said.

USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration would certify
the process through documentation reviews and internal audits.

A similar voluntary program may be created for seeds. However, U.S. seed
exporters may have the option of including a USDA-approved label on their
biotech-free products.

The proposed system stems from public comments received by the USDA in the
wake of the StarLink incident two years ago. The unapproved biotech corn crop was
detected in U.S food products, sparking a nationwide recall of snack foods
and tortillas due to fears the tainted food may cause allergic reactions.

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