NGFA disagrees with soy, corn growers about biotech rule
The National Grain and Feed Association issued a statement criticizing the Agriculture Department’s new rule on biotech regulation, while the American Soybean Association and the National Corn Growers Association praised it.
The NGFA said USDA’s final 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.”
NGFA, which consists of more than 1,000 grain, feed, processing, exporting and other grain-related companies that operate more than 7,000 facilities and handle more than 70% of U.S. grains and oilseeds, noted that the rule updating biotechnology regulations under the Plant Protection Act “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.”
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NGFA said that “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 (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) 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.”
NGFA said that it 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.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of America noted in a news release last week that consumer and industry groups had filed joint comments that more transparency was needed in the regulation.
The American Soybean Association said, “The new process established by this rule is expected to lead to lower regulatory costs and timeframes for the development of new plant varieties for developers, significantly granting soybean growers quicker access to more affordable bean varieties incorporating a broader array of innovations.”
“We are pleased with USDA’s final rule streamlining the regulatory process for low-risk biotech crops to come to market,” said soy grower Caleb Ragland of Magnolia, Ky., who chairs ASA’s Regulatory Committee.
“By establishing a common-sense regulatory process to ensure new biotech plants varieties are reviewed quickly with predictable timelines and allowed to go to market if they pose no risk, soybean growers can remain efficient and competitive through this continued access to innovation.”
The National Corn Growers Association said in a newsletter to its members that it “commends” USDA for the rule, saying it will create “a modern framework to better address the innovations in and challenges facing modern agriculture.”
NCGA added, “The final SECURE rule streamlines the regulatory processes biotech developers must use to bring products to market.”
“USDA broadly regulates organisms created through ‘genetic engineering,’ however certain categories of genetically engineered organisms will now not require regulatory review. These categories include new plants with crop-trait combinations already reviewed and approved by USDA and plants with traits developed through genetic engineering that could have been achieved through conventional breeding processes.
“For those plants not falling into one of these two categories, USDA offers new streamlined processes for regulatory review and approval. Most components of the rule go into effect in 90 days.”
“NCGA weighed in with USDA throughout the development of this regulation to ensure the impact on corn farmers and their customers were considered in the final rule through the submission of comments in August 2019 and farmer testimony,” said Kevin Ross, NCGA president. “We appreciate USDA’s open process and consideration of our feedback in the final rule.”
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. ❖
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