Genetically engineered and gene edited plants face less oversight under the Trump administration’s USDA
A majority of genetically engineered and gene edited plants now will escape any oversight from the U.S. Department of Agriculture under revised regulations issued recently by the agency.
Despite comments from environmental groups, consumer organizations, biotech crop developers, and food industry stakeholders asking the USDA to eliminate a provision allowing crop developers to self-determine whether their products are regulated, the Trump administration refused to require developers to even notify the agency of products they believe are exempt under the new regulations.
“The result is that government regulators and the public will have no idea what products will enter the market and whether those products appropriately qualified for an exemption from oversight,” said Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology project director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “They will stealthily enter our food supply at a time when consumers want greater transparency, leading to potential consumer backlash and acceptance problems, even for safe and beneficial products. That is why many industry members supported increased transparency.”
In the past, the USDA has regulated most genetically engineered plants by requiring notification and permits for field research and a USDA determination that those plants don’t cause harm before they’re commercially planted by farmers. The new Trump Administration policy isn’t based on a risk assessment with scientific data that found the exempt plant safe, but instead is the result of the USDA’s narrow reading of its statutory authority and its wish to deregulate wherever possible, Jaffe said.
“While some genetically engineered products are safe and beneficial, the federal government needs a regulatory system that tracks product development and ensures safety before products are marketed,” he said.
The opponents of the new policy support science- and risk-based federal oversight of genetically engineered plants to ensure they’re safe to humans and the environment before they’re released for cultivation or restoration, but the USDA’s final regulation doesn’t achieve that result, Jaffe said.
The CSPI, Consumer Federation of America, National Wildlife Federation, and Environmental Defense Fund submitted comments to the USDA on its proposed rule in August 2019.