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Vilsack Seeks Biotech Compromise

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the largest U.S. farm group on Jan. 10 that farmers could see less government interference if they find a way for traditional and genetically modified crops to coexist.

Farm groups and the biotechnology industry are skeptical of Vilsack’s “coexistence” proposal. He launched it last month at the same time the Agriculture Department said planting restrictions might accompany deregulation of biotech alfalfa.

Vilsack says the biotech alfalfa, developed by Monsanto Co., is safe. An even-handed compromise among growers would better than repeat litigation over rules for biotech crops, he said. The alfalfa dispute went to the Supreme Court and a U.S. Appeals Court is hearing a case on biotech sugar seeds.

Most U.S. farmers oppose government intrusion on their property.

“Every farmer ought to be able to do what he or she wants to do on their land, so we are going to continue to have that conversation,” Vilsack said at the annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). USDA held an alfalfa “stakeholder” session in December.

USDA is considering two options – total deregulation or partial deregulation that could include isolation standards from other crops, set geographic restrictions on where the crop is grown, spell out harvest periods and regulate equipment use.

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