In a bizarre move, the USDA will allow Monsanto to conduct its own impact studies on genetically engineered (GE) organisms. Is this a case of the market self-regulating itself? Perhaps this an instance of corporations and the government skewing the marketplace.
Corporate-State GE Regulation
The USDA action may seem like a boon for self-regulating free market folks. The government, via the USDA, is allowing any entity subject to genetically engineered (GE) regulation to submit its own environmental report. In essence, Monsanto, not to mention other GE corporate players like DuPont, Deere & Co., and Archer Daniels Midland, would be self-generating their own reports.
Petitioners, such as these corporations, have no second or third party check in developing the initial environmental report. The USDA will then take these self-generated reports and create an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement on the technology in question.
The USDA attempts to handle the grievance of needing a second or third party check by providing an alternative. Instead of corporations self-generating their own report, the petitioner and the USDA would hire and fund a contractor to prepare the environmental assessment or environmental impact statement. But again, it must be called into question, if a contractor is being funded directly by a petitioner, would that not sway the outcome as well?
Suffice it to say, this is not a case of the free market doing the regulating. The market is made up of more participants than just GE producer corporations and the USDA. This is a case where the Corporation and the State (via the USDA) is so intertwined, that the market cannot even offer a competing environmental assessment from an unbiased third party.
There isn’t even any stakeholder engagement! Only GE players are allowed to participate in this process.
Towards a Free Market in GE Regulation
In an even stranger twist, the Global Harvest Initiative (whose members happen to include Monsanto, DuPont, Deere & Co., and Archer Daniels Midland) is calling for more USDA funding. This may sound like a good thing. More funding, means better regulating, right?
If the USDA is making it easy for these corporations to push GE through to the marketplace, it is no wonder there would call to throw more money, and even power, to the USDA itself. Just because an entity gets more funding, does not mean it will do a better job. It may even do a worst job even quicker.
Perhaps that is the problem with a legislated monopoly regulatory agency, such as the USDA. There is no competition to keep it honest. There is no motivation to do the right thing.
A better way to deal with the genetically engineered foods debacle is allow for competing entities against the USDA. These competing entities can be non-profit or for profit, they just can’t be granted a monopoly on GE regulation like the USDA. The entities would be motivated to provide better and more accurate environmental reports with respect to GE, since their company is on the line if it does not.
All in all, it is very unlikely that the USDA will willingly give up its GE authority. I would even argue that GE corporate players want it this way. Dealing with one regulatory authority (when it comes to GE crops) is far easier for GE players than dealing with a free market of GE regulatory authorities.