USDA’s final rule for regulating biotech products lacks adequate market transparency 

Rule could contribute to future trade disruptions, according to NGFA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) finalized rule for regulating plant-based agricultural biotechnology products takes an overly broad approach that does not deliver adequate transparency and could contribute to future trade disruptions, said the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) in a May 14 statement.

USDA announced on May 14 its final rule updating its biotechnology regulations under the Plant Protection Act. The final rule exempts from regulation plants that could have been developed through conventional breeding. In addition, a number of gene editing techniques, including a single base pair substitution and sole deletions, are exempt from regulation under the final rule.

In response, NGFA issued the following statement:

“NGFA supports the use of agricultural biotechnology and plant breeding innovation to provide farmers with improved technology that can contribute to a sustainable, abundant and affordable food and feed supply.

“However, for grain elevators and exporters, as well as farmers and downstream customers they serve, there is a pressing need to provide transparency in the types and uses of gene-editing and other technology being deployed and commercialized in U.S. grain and oilseed production. On that score, NGFA is disappointed that USDA’s final rule allows crop technology developers to make a ‘self-determination’ that their plant technology is exempt from APHIS regulatory oversight without a concurrent obligation to notify the agency so that such information is available to the marketplace and consumers.”

NGFA noted that APHIS in its final rule makes repeated references to the importance of preserving U.S. agricultural trade and states that it is committed to “continuing to work with international trading partners and exporters to resolve trade concerns.” But NGFA emphasized that “transparency in the types of crop technology being deployed and commercialized is essential to avoiding future trade disruptions.”

USDA solicited comments from the public on the proposed rule in 2019. NGFA and several other grain- and oilseed-based agribusiness associations issued an August 2019 joint statement outlining concerns about the proposed rule’s lack of regulatory oversight for gene-edited crops, the “self-determination” provision granted to crop technology providers, and whether governmental authorities in key U.S. export markets would accept USDA’s approach.

In addition, NGFA submitted consumer-focused comments with a dozen trade associations representing bakers, food companies, processors and restaurants stressing that the failure to require developers to notify USDA when making a self-determination could create uncertainty about what products are in the market and erode consumer trust.

USDA said the rule will publish in the Federal Register on May 18, and will be final that day. The new rule’s provisions become effective on key dates over the next 18 months.