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House Panel Advances Bill That Accelerates Biotech Crop Reviews

July 12 (Bloomberg) -- A U.S. House committee advanced a bill today that would accelerate approval of genetically modified crops from Monsanto Co. and other seed makers by limiting environmental reviews and setting decision time limits.

The provisions, part of a farm-policy overhaul approved 35-11 by the House Agriculture Committee, would limit the ability of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider most environmental laws in determining the safety of new biotech crops. The crops would be approved automatically if no decision is made within 18 months.

Grain and food providers are concerned the bill ignores the threat of “premature commercialization” of biotech crops, which may affect domestic and export markets, according to the National Grain and Feed Association, which represents more than 1,000 companies. Environmental groups also objected.

The bill “weakens the already woefully inadequate federal oversight of genetically engineered crops, livestock and food,” Anna Ghosh, a spokeswoman for Washington-based Food & Water Watch, said today in a statement.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization, whose members include Monsanto, DuPont Co., and other major seed producers, said July 10 that the bill would “reduce unnecessary duplication” in the regulation of genetically engineered crops and make the system more predictable.

The bill would bar the USDA from consulting with other agencies and from conducting environmental impact statements under the National Environmental Policy Act, according to a July 10 letter to committee members from the Center for Food Safety, which has successfully challenged approvals of genetically engineered crops.

“The new deadlines and diminished review process will make a mockery of USDA’s GE crop reviews, transforming it into a facade of ‘rubber stamp’ approval, at the urging of the chemical industry,” the center said in the letter.

The provisions weren’t debated during nearly 15 hours of committee discussion yesterday and today on the farm bill. It will next be considered by the full House.

The bill is H.R. 6083.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jack Kaskey in Houston at jkaskey@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Casey at scasey4@bloomberg.net

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