The USDA said it does not regulate or have any 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.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued that statement, calling it a “clarification” of the agency’s oversight of plants produced through innovative new breeding techniques, such as genome editing. Genome editing and other new techniques can expand traditional plant breeding tools because they can introduce new plant traits more quickly and precisely, potentially saving years or even decades in bringing needed new varieties to farmers. The new techniques produce plant varieties that are indistinguishable from those developed through traditional breeding methods.
“With this approach, USDA seeks to allow innovation when there is no risk present,” Perdue said. “At the same time, I want to be clear to consumers that we will not be stepping away from our regulatory responsibilities. While these 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.”
There are three federal agencies that food products and agricultural technology: The USDA’s regulations focus on protecting plant health; the FDA oversees food and feed safety; and the EPA regulates the sale, distribution, and testing of pesticides.