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Ag Secretary's proposal riles biotech industry

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WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who was once seen as an ally of biotech companies, has now angered the industry with a proposed policy shift in how genetically engineered crops are regulated.

Vilsack’s department is considering restrictions on where biotech alfalfa can be grown to protect conventional and organic farmers from having their crops contaminated.

“The implications of moving forward in that direction are huge,” said Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, executive vice president of food and agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization. “Long term we are looking at upending the U.S. regulatory process, which has implications for investment and research.”

The biotech industry and farm groups fear that the Agriculture Department will impose similar planting restrictions on future biotech products, including genetically engineered varieties of corn that are now in development. In the past, the USDA has permitted unrestricted production of a biotech crop deemed safe for human health and the environment.

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