WASHINGTON, DC, US — The final rule for regulating plant-based agricultural biotechnology products takes too broad of an approach that could lead to future trade disruptions, the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) said on May 14.

The final rule from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) exempts from regulation plants that could have been developed through conventional breeding, and several gene editing techniques, including a single base pair substitution and sole deletions. 

The NGFA said while it supports the use of biotechnology and plant breeding, it wants transparency in the types of uses of gene-editing and other technology.

“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 regulatory oversight without a concurrent obligation to notify the agency so that such information is available to the marketplace and consumers,” the NGFA said.

The NGFA noted that APHIS in its final rule makes repeated references to the importance of preserving US agricultural trade and states that it is committed to “continuing to work with international trading partners and exporters to resolve trade concerns.” But the NGFA emphasized that “transparency in the types of crop technology being deployed and commercialized is essential to avoiding future trade disruptions.”

The USDA solicited comments from the public on the proposed rule in 2019. The NGFA 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 US export markets would accept the USDA’s approach. 

In addition, the 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 the USDA when making a self-determination could create uncertainty about what products are in the market and erode consumer trust.

The 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.