USDA Proposes New Policy on Plant Breeding Innovations

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Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Agency released a pre-published document that proposes to revise its regulations around genetically engineered organisms. According to the agency, this is the first comprehensive revision of the regulations since they were established in 1987.

“We’re pleased that USDA’s proposal recognizes that some applications of gene editing result in plant varieties that are essentially equivalent to varieties that are developed through more traditional breeding methods, and treats these varieties accordingly,” says Andy LaVigne, American Seed Trade Association president and CEO.

With the proposal coming in at 122 pages, LaVigne says the association is still reviewing the proposal in detail, but “this approach will help to ensure that U.S. agriculture remains at the forefront of innovation and maintains its leadership role globally.”

Both ASTA and the National Corn Growers Association have been engaged in discussions with the agency throughout the rule-making process.

NCGA released a statement: “Corn farmers have a strong interest in the availability of new technologies to enhance the sustainability, productivity and competitiveness of U.S. agriculture. Agriculture biotechnology and next generation breeding techniques allow growers to increase yields while decreasing inputs. Meeting demand, improving processes and minimizing environmental impacts are what make modern corn production a dynamic industry. The documents published indicate that, in large part, federal agencies agree with the basis of our stance and strive to create a more efficient regulatory process allowing growers greater access to new products.”

All foods derived from plants are regulated in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and seeds are comprehensively regulated by USDA. In tandem with USDA’s proposal, FDA has announced plans to solicit comments on new plant varieties developed through gene editing techniques. Consistent with its 1992 policy, FDA acknowledges in its Request for Information that some applications of gene editing result in plants that could be developed through more traditional breeding methods.

ASTA encourages FDA to closely coordinate its activities with USDA to ensure a consistent, clear and science-based policy approach across the U.S. government. According to the association, it’s also critical that both agencies actively engage with U.S. trading partners around the world as the rulemaking process moves forward.

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