Crops enhanced through biotechnology currently on the market bring value to agriculture, consumers and the environment. For example, some traits protect against harmful insect pests and diseases (e.g. ongoing efforts to develop immunity to citrus greening in oranges), thereby reducing the need for chemical spraying. Other traits can increase the nutritional value of the harvested crop such as pineapples with higher levels of lycopene, or they have the potential to eliminate life-threatening allergens such as those found in peanuts. NCFC supports the use of biotechnology in agriculture and the ongoing research and development of new seed traits. The development and adoption of biotech products makes possible the continued availability of safe food, feed and fiber products to consumers in the U.S. and worldwide.
NCFC urges the Administration and Congress to maintain the integrity of the biotech regulatory and approval process for the benefit of U.S. growers and our consumers. The U.S. government has consistently supported and defended science-based regulatory regimes. In many international forums, U.S. policy is the standard for science- and risk-based regulation. The U.S. successfully argued against the European Union in a World Trade Organization dispute over the approval of biotechnology products. The interests of growers, businesses and consumers depend on trade agreements with countries that import commodities and products that we produce. The injection of non-science-based criteria into our government’s regulatory process will only serve to undermine those international efforts.
In the U.S., roughly 90 percent of all the corn, soybeans and cotton are grown using biotechnology. The acceptance of biotech crops would not have been possible without the existence of a risk-based regulatory process built on sound scientific principles. That process has been in place since the adoption of the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology by the U.S. was announced in 1986. Through the Coordinated Framework, agricultural biotechnology products in the U.S. are regulated by three agencies: the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Every biotechnology crop on the market today has successfully completed review under the Framework and has been found to be safe.
On July 2, 2015, the Office of Science, Technology and Policy (OSTP) launched a one-year initiative to review and assess the Framework with the objectives of ensuring public confidence in the regulatory system and preventing unnecessary barriers to future innovation and competitiveness, while continuing to protect health and the environment.
Under the authority of the Plant Protection Act implementing regulations, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is the agency that reviews all biotechnology crops before they can be field tested or commercialized. APHIS has overseen tens of thousands of field tests that have made it possible for over 70 biotechnology crops to reach the market through its deregulation process. In making deregulation decisions under the Plant Protection Act, APHIS has consistently relied upon its independent evaluation of the potential for new products that could pose a plant pest risk. Under its authority it considers factors that are relevant to a plant pest risk determination. Though the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) must be addressed in making a deregulation decision, it is important to remember that NEPA is a procedural statute. NEPA directs APHIS to assess potential environmental impacts of its actions, but that is where NEPA’s jurisdiction ends. NEPA does not give USDA any authority beyond the Plant Protection Act and APHIS’s implementing regulations.
In an effort independent of the OSTP initiative, APHIS announced in the Federal Register on February 5, 2016, its notice of intent (NOI) to review the existing regulations for biotechnology through an environmental impact statement (EIS) and consider a range of options for updating its regulatory review process. The four options APHIS proposed for updating the process ranged from status quo to transformational. NCFC submitted comments in April on the range of proposed alternatives for APHIS to consider in the EIS along with recommendations for defining the term biotechnology for use in the statement.
The EPA is responsible for ensuring that pest-resistant biotech varieties are safe to grow and consume. It regulates environmental exposure to these crops to ensure there are no adverse effects to the environment or any beneficial, non-targeted insects and other organism.
The FDA imposes on foods developed through biotechnology the same regulatory requirements used to safeguard all foods in the marketplace. The FDA has both pre-market and post-market authority to regulate the safety and labeling of all foods and animal feed. The FDA’s evaluation of a biotechnology food focuses on its characteristics, not the method used to develop it.
American agriculture has long been at the forefront of meeting the world’s ever expanding needs for food, feed and fiber. When Congress created USDA over 150 years ago, it recognized in law the value of improving seeds and plants for the benefit of American farmers. The 1862 law that established the Department served as a key foundation for generations of improved agricultural innovation and productivity in the U.S.
Better seeds give farmers new choices to cope with new challenges, such as difficult weather conditions and plant diseases, and to increase productivity to help feed, clothe, and provide energy to a rapidly growing global population in an environmentally sustainable way. By improving crops and farm productivity, modern biotechnology delivers significant economic, environmental, health and consumer benefits.
The introduction in 1995 of modern biotechnology has made a significant contribution to meeting the global needs for food and feed, and to improving farmers’ economic and environmental sustainability. Rapid adoption of the technology reflects farmer satisfaction, including more convenient and flexible crop management, lower cost of production, higher productivity and/or net returns per acre, health and social benefits, and environmental benefits including decreased use of pesticides.
The availability of corn, cotton, soybeans, sugar beets, canola, alfalfa, and other crops enhanced through biotechnology will continue to assist the U.S. farmer in providing for the world’s growing population. The development and adoption of these products, and the promise of new products, makes possible the continued availability of safe food, feed and fiber products to consumers in the U.S. and worldwide.