By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) published an updated report on August 4, 2023, on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Sustainable, Ecological, Consistent, Uniform, Responsible, Efficient (SECURE) rule. The revisions note that USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) five-year Strategic Plan for fiscal years (FY) 2023-2027 states that “one of its objectives is to ensure the safe development of agricultural biotechnology products using a science-based regulatory framework, including efficient permit review for [genetically engineered (GE)] organisms, clear communication of regulations to stakeholders, coordination with other agencies, and harmonization of regulatory oversight for biotechnology products.”
As reported in in our September 13, 2022, blog item, in 2022, the Biden Administration issued Executive Order (EO) 14081, “Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure American Bioeconomy,” ordering USDA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to improve further the clarity and efficiency of regulatory processes for biotechnology products and increase coordination and communication among federal regulatory agencies. The report states that FDA “encourages developers of all new plant varieties to request premarket food safety consultations with the agency, which involves a discussion of the safety protocols and regulatory issues before the food is distributed in the market.” The report notes that in response to EO 14081, in May 2023, EPA announced changes to its regulations concerning GE plant-incorporated protectants (PIP). According to the report, these changes exempt certain PIPs from registration and tolerance requirements while implementing a notification process for transparency. EPA “intends to consider additional exemptions and expand the list of categories not requiring EPA confirmation as biotechnology progresses.” EPA’s rule (88 Fed. Reg. 34756) went into effect in July 2023.
According to the updated report, Congress “may be interested in monitoring how USDA’s revised regulatory requirements have affected the development and commercialization of GE and genome-edited products.” The updated report suggests that beyond that, Congress may consider monitoring how USDA, FDA, and EPA are assessing the effectiveness of the revised regulations, “as underlined by the self-determination aspect of the exemption status of new GE and genome-edited products.” The updated report states that further, Congress may also oversee how well the three agencies are working together to harmonize the regulation of biotechnology products moving forward.