USDA withdraws GMO disclosure rule

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is backing down from a GMO disclosure rule that would have provided state regulators with critical information about the genetically modified organisms that farmers use to spray their crops.

In February 2013, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service proposed sharing information with state regulators about genetically engineered organisms that are released in their jurisdictions. But the USDA withdrew the rule Thursday, because it said it found "potential vulnerabilities" that would have put farmers' businesses at risk.

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"We have decided to withdraw the proposed rule to ensure that our ability to protect confidential business information from disclosure is maintained," the USDA wrote in the Federal Register.

GMOs, also known as genetically engineered organisms, have been a subject of much controversy and speculation because of the potential negative health effects critics say they may have.

Farmers that want to use or import GMOs must register with the USDA and apply for permits. Through this process, the USDA receives information about farmers' GMO use. 

But the agency is second-guessing a rule that would have allowed it to provide state regulators with this information, because it would serve as a business disruption for farmers. The information farmers provide to the USDA is supposed to remain confidential, but if the agency shares it with state regulators that could be an issue.

"We have discovered potential vulnerabilities under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)," the USDA wrote. "While (confidential business information) is protected from mandatory public disclosure, we conducted an in-depth review of FOIA and determined that disclosure of (this information) to state and tribal regulatory officials may constitute a waiver of this FOIA exemption. Specifically, under FOIA, the States are considered members of 'the public.' Because disclosure to one member of the public means disclosure to the general public, (USDA) may be required to disclose the (information) shared with state and tribal regulatory officials to anyone who requests the same information under FOIA."