Green groups sue USDA over new rules for biotech agricultural products


A worker sprays a hill of newly planted tomatoes in Bonsall, California, United States, May 21, 2018. REUTERS / Mike Blake

  • Farmers, conservation groups say Trump-era rule violates endangered species law
  • The complainants also invoke the doctrine of the separation of powers


The Center for Food Safety and others accuse the USDA of violating the Endangered Species Act with the 2020 rule, alleging that because it broadly exempts genetically modified plants from surveillance so to harm endangered species, its architects should have consulted the relevant federal agencies about this potential damage.

The USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The rules illegally gut and abandon the USDA’s responsibility to protect farmers and the environment,” George Kimbrell, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement.

The latest rule adopted by the USDA last May is titled “Movement of Certain Genetically Modified Organisms”. It exempts the USDA from regulating genetically modified plants that fall into broad categories, including plants that could also have been grown through traditional breeding, the complaint says.

Previously, almost all genetically modified plants had to go through formal USDA approval before being tested outdoors or before being sold to farmers, according to the plaintiffs.

The overhaul of the rules has alarmed consumer groups fearing to open the doors to products destined for commercial markets without any USDA review. The Trump administration said the change would reduce the regulatory burden on developers.

The plaintiffs also argue that the rule violates the United States Constitution because it gives biotech developers the ability to determine for themselves whether their modified plants fall under a regulatory exemption.

This violates the doctrine of the separation of powers, which prohibits federal agencies from delegating their decision-making power to third parties, the plaintiffs allege.

The case is National Family Farm Coalition v. Vilsack, United States District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 3: 21-cv-05695.

For the National Family Farm Coalition et al: Meredith Stevenson of the Center for Food Safety.

Read more:

USDA limits review requirements for certain biotech agricultural products

Sebastien malo

Sébastien Malo reporters on environmental, climate and energy litigation. Contact him at [email protected]


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