The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA), in a draft rule open for consultation, is, among other objectives, looking to reduce the regulatory burden linked to genetically engineered (GE) organisms that don’t present plant pest or noxious weed risks.
While the current regulations have been effective in ensuring the safe importation, interstate movement, and environmental release of GE organisms developed during the past 29 years, advances in such engineering have occurred since they were promulgated and new challenges have emerged, said the USDA. “The agency's evaluations to date have provided evidence that most genetic engineering techniques, even those that use a plant pest as a vector, vector agent, or donor, do not result in a GE organism that presents a plant pest risk," it added.
However, more work needs to be done to evaluate engineered plants for their potential noxious weed risk, the department said.
Comments on the proposed rule, which was published Thursday, are being collected through mid-May.
The American Soybean Association (ASA) has come out in favor the new policies. “ASA is pleased to see this common-sense rule put forward by USDA,” added Ron Moore, ASA president.
The proposed rule would continue the current practice of requiring pre-market approval by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) when plants were developed using transgenic biotechnology, said the ASA. But, it would not have the same requirements for plants developed through newer techniques like gene editing.
“The innovations in plant breeding we’re seeing right now are precision tools that work within a species, and shouldn’t be subject to the same regulatory hurdles as first-generation transgenic biotechnology,” said Moore. “USDA’s proposed rule acknowledges this distinction, and we look forward to working with the incoming administration to ensure that this key aspect of the rule remains throughout the process.”
The proposed framework offers a ‘practical’ approach to biotech regulation that allows for future development, he said.
“Farmers face a range of challenges and require a complementary range of solutions to remain competitive,” he said. “As the seed technology within our industry evolves, the regulatory framework must evolve with it.”
Threat to trade
Trade organizations in the US also see the proposed revisions as a potential way to ensure the US can continue to work with other countries regarding the sale of biotech feed and the products of new plant breeding methods.
Bobby Frederick, director of legislative affairs with the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), said: “We don’t want to be behind or left behind when it comes to considering these technologies – we need to have the conversation with other governments.”
“We have to get this piece right when we’re working with other governments and their systems,” he told FeedNavigator.
The goal is to establish some consistency in regulatory policy, he stressed.
“We need to keep having these discussions with our trading partners – China, the EU, the Philippines – and doing a better job of getting on a similar plain when it comes to regulatory systems,” said Frederick.
“If we don’t have a market, or we have a system that is incompatible [with others] then we’re hurting our market share,” he said. “I can’t stress enough how much it matters to our market and value chain.”
The review process also should allow for better engagement with consumers as it allows an opportunity for education and outreach, said Frederick.
A goal would be to promote consumer understanding and acceptance of the technology and review system being used, he said.