The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced plans to streamline and improve several of the programmatic processes its customers use most, including the agency’s process for making determinations on petitions for nonregulated status for genetically engineered (GE) plants. APHIS grants such petitions when it determines that a GE product does not pose a plant pest risk and should not be subject to APHIS regulation. Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted improvements to a host of USDA programs and processes, including the GE petition process, being made to help farmers, ranchers and businesses continue to drive America’s productive agricultural economy.
“With the improvements announced today, APHIS will significantly reduce the average length of the petition process while maintaining strong oversight,” said Ed Avalos, undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. “The new process will also provide the opportunity for earlier input from the public on petitions for deregulations, allowing USDA to better serve all its stakeholders. This change is part of our commitment to improving the customer experience by streamlining processes, accelerating delivery and using innovative technologies.”
As a result of the review, which utilized Lean Six Sigma’s business process improvement strategy, APHIS identified a number of areas that could be improved, leading to a more timely, predictable and higher-quality process. APHIS will improve the overall timeline significantly by standardizing and streamlining process steps. APHIS will also be soliciting public input on pending petitions earlier in the review process, enabling the agency to improve the quality of its environmental analyses.
By taking these steps, APHIS believes it can deliver to its customers and the public a more predictable process for considering and acting on product deregulations. Once the agency implements all of these business process improvements, APHIS anticipates being able to reduce the length of the petition process by more than 50 percent. A more predictable timeframe will enable developers to bring products granted nonregulated status to market more quickly and provide growers with more choices and access to new technologies sooner, while enabling APHIS to maintain its mission to protect U.S. agriculture and the environment from plant pests.
“By focusing on our timeframes, holding ourselves more accountable and providing better opportunity for public review and input into the process, we will improve the quality and stringency of our GE approval process,” said Avalos.
The improvements to APHIS’ GE deregulation petition review process are part of Secretary Vilsack’s effort to transform USDA into a high-performing organization that focuses on its customers. These process improvements are part of the USDA Customer Service Plan which identifies key actions and initiatives aimed at improving the customer experience, modernizing and streamlining processes, reducing costs, accelerating delivery and using innovative technology to advance customer service.
In the coming weeks, APHIS will publish a notice in the Federal Register that provides the public with more details regarding specific steps the Agency will take to improve the GE deregulation petition review process.