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Trump revamps oversight of biotech crops

Executive order aims to bring products to market faster

by Britt E. Erickson
June 12, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 24

US President Donald J. Trump has directed the US Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency to streamline the regulatory process for approving agricultural crops produced using biotechnology, including gene editing. Trump’s June 11 executive order aims to reduce delays in getting new biotech crops to market, lower development costs, and provide farmers with certainty about the US regulatory process.

“Our current regulatory framework has impeded innovation instead of facilitating it,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says in a statement. “We need all the tools in the toolbox to meet the challenge of feeding everyone now and into the future—if we do not put these safe biotechnology advances to work here at home, our competitors in other nations will,” he adds.

On June 6, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service proposed to overhaul its regulations related to importation, interstate movement, and environmental release of genetically modified organisms. The revisions would be the first major changes to the regulations since 1987. The changes would make it easier to market crops that are unlikely to pose a risk to other plants, including gene-edited crops that are indistinguishable from plants developed through traditional breeding.

Consumer advocacy groups are calling for a national registry of gene-edited crops so people have a way of knowing what gene-edited crops are being grown and sold. “If consumers believe that key information about a food is being hidden from them, they may question the food’s safety or quality,” Greg Jaffe, biotechnology director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says in a recent blog post. “It is only a matter of time before consumers start asking retailers like Wegmans or Walmart or food manufacturers like Kellogg or General Mills whether they sell foods that contain gene-edited ingredients.”



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