ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, U.S. — A new proposed rule for regulating plant-based agricultural biotechnology products is “fundamentally flawed” and could contribute to trade disruptions in the future, said the National Grain and Feed Association as well as several other grain and oilseed-based associations in an Aug. 6 joint statement.

“Our industry, and our farmer-customers emphatically need to avoid the costly trade disruptions that have been associated periodically with transgenic biotechnology,” wrote the NGFA, the Corn Refiners Association, the National Oilseed Processors Association, the North American Export Grain Association and the North American Millers’ Association. “If the U.S. government’s regulatory oversight approach to genome editing and other plant breeding innovation is out of step with the domestic food industry or America’s significant export markets, it will have perilous repercussions for the grain and oilseed value chain, including U.S. farmers.”

While the groups stressed that they strongly support the use of biotechnology, they said a key part of America’s competitiveness is the ability to efficiently and cost-effectively market its agricultural products.

“It is through this dual lens — support for technological innovation while ensuring the continued efficient marketability of crops in which it is used” — that the five organizations said the proposed rule needs to be viewed. 

Under the proposed rule published on June 6, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) would exempt most crops developed with gene-editing techniques from regulatory oversight. The APHIS proposal also would empower crop developers to make a “self-determination” that their plant is exempt from APHIS regulatory oversight, without providing any notification to the agency. Under the proposed rule, technology providers would have the “option” to request written confirmation from APHIS that their self-determinations are valid.

The agribusiness organizations said such a broad self-determination approach “risks undermining consumer acceptance and international regulatory recognition of APHIS’s regulatory oversight.”

The organizations urged APHIS to amend its proposed rule to require all technology providers to notify the agency in advance before introducing gene-edited or other plant breeding innovation traits for commercialization — even those within APHIS’s expressly exempted categories — to provide needed transparency to the market and to consumers. Doing so would enable the agency to issue an official attestation that the trait does not pose a plant pest risk, “thereby providing an important tool to efficiently market U.S. agricultural products.”

The statement also reiterated NGFA’s long-held belief that obtaining international recognition or acceptance in significant U.S. export markets should be a precondition to avoid potential trade disruption before APHIS proceeds with a final rule.

Further, the groups said it would be ill-advised for APHIS to proceed with regulatory changes until its fellow federal agencies that operate under the U.S. “Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology” — the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency – issue rules or guidance on how they plan to address their respective oversight of genome editing and other plant breeding innovation technologies.