USDA is required by law to respond to regulatory petitions within 180 days. With 2,4-D-tolerant crops, the waiting has now lasted three and a half years—seven times the period required by federal law.

A USDA announcement in May that it is extending the review of these technologies suggests that the waiting will continue for more than a year. For how long will USDA dawdle? Nine times the requirement under federal law? Ten times? Forever?

I should be using this product on my fields right now, during the growing season of 2013. It’s too late for that, of course. Right now, I’ll be lucky if this product is available before President Obama leaves office.

This is ridiculous. The 2, 4-D trait technology is already approved in Canada. Approvals are imminent for it in other countries that are key competitors. Yet, here in the United States, farmers must rely on existing technology to compete with the rest of the world.

If our regulatory system slips into sclerosis, we’ll surrender our great competitive advantage, in which the United States has led the way on technology and innovation. Very soon, Brazil and China will approve novel technologies before we do.

This is how we become a second-world country—not because others are beating us fair and square, but because we’re bogging ourselves down in red tape and broken rules.

I’ve seen what happens to farmers when governments ignore the rule of law. For six years, I invested in a farm in Ukraine, where my partners and I grew corn, soybeans, and several other crops. The venture ultimately ended because it was impossible to do business without paying massive bribes.

American farmers aren’t asking for no regulations at all, or even a phony “rubber stamp” procedure. We want predictable rules that help us grow safe and nutritious food, which is exactly what we’ve had for many years.

Now we risk losing it. USDA thinks it can flout federal law, apparently hoping that no one will notice or care.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack must lead and get the USDA regulatory train back on track.

Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm.  He serves as Vice-Chairman and volunteers as a Board Member of Truth About Trade & Technology.


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