Grain groups caution against ill-advised revisions to biotech regulations

Five national grain-based organizations have cautioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) not to make premature and ill-advised changes to its biotech regulations that could result in increased domestic and international market disruptions for grain and grain products.

The statement, authored by the National Grain and Feed Association, was in response to APHIS's notice announcing its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement concerning potential revisions to its so-called Part 340 biotech regulations. Under these regulations, APHIS makes science-based determinations of whether biotech-enhanced traits pose a plant pest or noxious weed risk.

The North American Export Grain Association, Corn Refiners Association, North American Millers Association and National Oilseed Processors Association joined the NGFA in stating that the outcome of any revision to APHIS's biotech regulations should be either acceptable to - or comparable and compatible with regulatory approaches used by - competent government authorities in important U.S. markets so as to minimize or prevent the risk of market and trade disruptions.

"To create a truly workable biotech regulatory framework for the future, APHIS must take the necessary time and make the necessary effort to address the challenge of achieving regulatory coherence and compatibility in the global market," the organizations stated. "We believe that any changes to U.S. biotech regulatory processes - including Part 340 - should be considered only after advance, robust and thorough discussions with competent government authorities in countries that represent important U.S. export markets, during which alignment in regulatory approaches is achieved to the maximum extent possible....This is even more important currently, given ongoing and potentially productive discussions occurring between the private sector and various foreign governments on whether and how to address the regulatory treatment of important new breeding technologies," such as gene-editing techniques.

To date, the groups said, there is no indication that adequate consultations or buy-in from foreign governments has occurred to date.

The statement also cited the need for APHIS to develop a clearly defined, specific regulatory process for biotech-enhanced agricultural products that have unique functional characteristics (e.g., output traits) that may adversely affect the functionality and/or compositional and nutritional integrity of the product and downstream users if the trait becomes present in the commingled, fungible supply chain at levels exceeding certain thresholds.

The organizations also faulted APHIS for seemingly divorcing the review of its regulations that determine whether a biotech trait poses a plant pest or noxious weed risk from the Obama administration's ongoing comprehensive review of the so-called Coordinated Framework for biotechnology that involves other federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency, which have oversight of other aspects of pre-market reviews of biotech-enhanced products.

Further, consistent with previous NGFA and NAEGA statements to APHIS, the joint statement also urged APHIS to consider the concept of "conditional deregulation" in instances where scientific risk assessment has found a given biotech-enhanced trait does not present a plant pest or noxious weed risk, but the trait has not been approved in important U.S. export markets or has a functionally different output trait. Under this concept, APHIS would continue to provide permit-controlled oversight over prudent stewardship and risk-responsibility plans put in place by biotech owners/providers to minimize the potential for traits that could pose market disruptions from becoming commingled in the fungible commodity supply stream.

The groups noted that the "conditional deregulation" concept is consistent with USDA's obligation to consider the potential economic impacts on U.S. agriculture of commercialization of biotech-enhanced traits.

It also would contribute to preserving the efficiencies and cost-competitiveness of the fungible, commingled U.S. and global grain and oilseed supply, in which commodities from various regions of the world can be sourced in a timely and efficient manner in response to customer demand without concern over regulatory status, thereby enhancing food security.

Click here to access the 11-page statement.


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