Some politicians wrap themselves in the flag to justify their positions, and then there is Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack appealing to farmers and ranchers’ belief in “private property rights” to justify limiting biotech crop production.

Vilsack claims science isn’t the way to determine where biotech crops can be grown. Although Roundup Ready alfalfa has a scientific clean bill of health for production, according to Vilsack’s expressed point of view, biotech growers won’t have the right to grow the crop adjacent to organic or conventional alfalfa without the biotech producer taking special precautions.

That hasn’t been the case for other biotech, genetically modified crops deregulated by the federal government such as corn and soybeans. Ignoring science would be a huge step backward for the introduction of additional biotech crops in the U.S. and the acceptance of planting them elsewhere in the world.

When Vilsack claimed private property rights were his focus at the annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation, he received a big round of applause. This occurred even though AFBF has joined other agricultural organizations in demanding that USDA follow scientific protocol in deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa.

Vilsack made his plea to approximately 6,000 members of the AFBF, a majority of them biotech crop producers, during the federation’s annual meeting. It would almost seem as though Vilsack tried to trick those uninformed about the Roundup Ready alfalfa situation into showing support for his point of view. His comments are here:

“Innovation also requires us to take a look at our regulatory process. And I know there has been a lot of conversation and discussion about regulatory processes, and I know Bob (Stallman, president of AFBF) sent a letter to me on the issue involving alfalfa, and we appreciate that. But I just want to give you some of the background.

“We have today roughly 23 pending deregulation efforts within USDA. These deregulation efforts, at least the ones that I’m familiar with, take from five to six years to get through, and they cost millions of dollars. I have tasked our team to figure out a way in which we can potentially reduce the amount of time it takes to review and come to a decision, and I know there is a discussion about alfalfa.

“What we are trying to do is stimulate a conversation and to ensure that every person, every farmer, every rancher, every grower has the capacity to do on their land what they wish to do. I was struck in another letter Bob sent me, on another issue, that one of the fundamental principles of Farm Bureau is the notion that a farmer ought to be able to sell and do on his lands, ought to be able to raise what he wants to raise or she wants to raise on their lands, is a property rights issue.

“So, we are trying to figure out, as difficult as it might be, is there a way in which we can assure that we have less interference with the capacity for folks to do and want to do on their land? If you want to grow GM crops you ought to be able to do that, if you want to grow identity preserved or conventional crops you ought to be able to do that, if you want to be an organic farmer you ought to be able to do that. (Applause by AFBF members)

“This is not an easy conversation, and the simplest thing for me to do in the position I’m in is to ignore it. But that is not how you handle tough situations on the farm or the ranch. You don’t ignore problems. You are the greatest solvers, innovators and thinkers I know of. If there is a problem, you are going to figure it out.

“This problem isn’t going to be solved with baling wire and duct tape. You know what I’m talking about. You have the capacity to figure things out, and you are expecting us to do the same. I’m not going to shy away from asking tough questions and trying to find those elusive answers because you deserve them, and because, as I said, 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.” (Applause by the AFBF members).

By Richard Keller, AgProfessional Editor