The reaction was somewhat muted to the new “regulatory framework” for agricultural biotechnology products announced last week by the White House and USDA.

The big agriculture organizations and biotech industry did, of course, quickly praise President Trump’s new executive order.  For something  that streamlines the regulation of genetically modified organisms, however, push back probably won’t be long in coming.

“Our current regulatory framework has impeded innovation instead of facilitating it,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue after the president issued an executive order.

With this Executive Order, President Trump says he is once again putting America first and setting the country on a course to modernize its regulatory framework so it will work for  farmers, ranchers and consumers.

“We need all the tools in the toolbox to meet the challenge of feeding everyone now and into the future – if we do not put these safe biotechnology advances to work here at home, our competitors in other nations will,” Secretary Perdue said.

“Science-based advances in biotechnology have great promise to enhance rural prosperity and improve the quality of life across America’s heartland and around the globe. I applaud President Trump for signing this important Executive Order that will help America’s farmers do what we aspire to do at USDA: Do right and feed everyone.”

According to USDA, the executive order calls for “regulatory streamlining” to encourage innovation in agricultural biotechnology through market efficiency, consistency, and safety. This is to occur under a predictable, consistent, transparent, and science-based regulatory framework.

Perdue said the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Trade Agreement sets unprecedented standards for agricultural biotechnology.

“For the first time, the agreement specifically addresses agricultural biotechnology to support 21st century innovations in agriculture,” the secretary said. “The text covers all biotechnologies, including new technologies such as genome editing, whereas the Trans-Pacific Partnership text covered only traditional rDNA technology. Specifically, the United States, Mexico and Canada have agreed to provisions to enhance information exchange and cooperation on agricultural biotechnology trade-related matters.”

The Environmental Protect Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and USDA share federal regulatory authority for products involving food and agriculture technology.

EPA is charged with overseeing the sale, distribution, and testing of pesticides to protect both human health and the natural environment. FDA sees to the safety of foods and feeds, while USDA is responsible for plant health.

Two years ago, the White House assigned 22 federal agencies to the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity. It is chaired by Perdue. One of its mandates is “to ensure the informed exercise of regulatory authority that impacts agriculture and rural communities.”

The further purpose of the task force was “to advance the adoption of innovations and technology for agricultural production and long-term, sustainable rural development… improve food safety… [and] encourage the production, export, and use of domestically produced agricultural products.”

In his plant breeding announcement March 28, Perdue said USDA does not now regulate nor does it have any plans to regulate plants that could otherwise have been developed through traditional breeding techniques. This includes a set of new techniques that are increasingly being used by plant breeders to produce new plant varieties that are indistinguishable from those developed through traditional breeding methods.

The task force reported to Trump in January with four significant recommendations:

1. Speed the safe commercialization of novel biotechnology products;

2. Improve the navigability of the regulatory system for small and mid-sized innovators;

3. Promote understanding of how a risk- and science-based regulatory approach effectively protects consumers; and

4. Remove unjustified trade barriers and expand markets for American products.

The task force said USDA, EPA, and FDA need “better coordination” with regulations on the genetic modification of crops and livestock to “reduce barriers to commercialization of safe, beneficial and improved genetically engineered entities.

The June 11 executive order lines up with the Task Force recommendations. Among its objectives, it calls for a science and risk-based regulatory approach with trading partners, a risk-based decision-making process, and public involvement in guidance and regulation development.

It calls for transparency, quickly reviewing agriculturual technology products and regulatory decisions based on consistency in the law, economics, and science.

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