Sonny Perdue US Ag secretary
"USDA seeks to allow innovation when there is no risk present," Perdue said.
Photo courtesy of USDA.
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on March 28 issued a statement “clarifying” the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) policy regarding regulatory oversight of plants produced using innovative plant breeding techniques, such as gene editing.

Consistent with previous USDA policy, Perdue said the department “does not regulate or have plans to regulate plants that could otherwise have been developed through traditional breeding techniques as long as they are not plant pests or developed using plant pests.”

Perdue added that, “with this approach, USDA seeks to allow innovation when there is no risk present.  At the same time, I want to be clear to consumers that we will not be stepping away from our regulatory responsibilities.  While these (plant breeding innovation) crops do not require regulatory oversight, we do have an important role to play in protecting plant health by evaluating products developed using modern biotechnology. This is a role USDA has played for more than 30 years, and one I will continue to take very seriously, as we work to modernize our technology-focused regulations.”

As part of the U.S. government’s Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology, the USDA has the responsibility to regulate plant biotechnology if it poses a plant pest or noxious weed risk to the environment.

In response to the announcement, the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) urged for U.S. government agencies to work together to develop the U.S. export market.

“For grain handlers, grain processors and exporters, it is essential that the U.S. government exert strong and effective leadership in interacting with governmental authorities in other countries to urge adoption of science- and risk-based approaches to the regulatory treatment of innovative plant breeding techniques so there is not a recurrence of the significant and costly international trade disruptions that occurred with some transgenic biotech traits,” the NGFA said. “Time is of the essence, and we have every reason to believe USDA will do its part within a coordinated and robust U.S. government outreach effort that also needs to involve the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. Engagement with these agencies’ governmental counterparts in U.S. export markets is critical in bringing about development of a coherent international regulatory environment that preserves the benefits and efficiencies of a commingled, fungible grain and oilseed supply chain, while enabling efficient, cost-effective trade to continue unabated.”

The NGFA also pushed for the creators of the techniques to be open and communicate fully with consumers.

“It also is fundamentally important that those developing and commercializing innovative plant breeding techniques accept their rightful responsibility to communicate proactively with consumers about the safety and benefits of these new plant-breeding techniques to foster consumer acceptance,” the NGFA said. “It also is incumbent upon plant breeders and the seed industry to be forthcoming with accurate and timely information about the specific innovative plant breeding techniques being developed for commercial use in food and feed crops — through a proactive, comprehensive advance notification and ongoing consultation process — to enable the grain and food industries to respond to commercial demand and inquiries from domestic and international customers and consumers.”