On Feb. 5, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register about plans to revise its biotechnology regulations and asking for public comments by March 7 about proceeding with its revision.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) noted of how it is in charge of “developing a draft programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS), required under the National Environmental Policy Act,that will evaluate a range of alternatives that the agency can take as it works to update its biotechnology regulations.”

As explained by the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), “The goal of the Notice is to identify ‘reasonable alternatives and potential issues to be evaluated in the environmental impact statement’ as well as to redefine the term ‘biotechnology.’ This is the first step in beginning USDA’s overhaul of its biotechnology regulations since its current processes were developed over thirty years ago.”

USDA and APHIS contend they are looking to accelerate the development of new crop traits considered to be of little risk to the environment, as well as determine regulatory requirements for specific new breeding techniques, such as gene editing.

NAWG noted the importance of biotechnology to wheat production, but didn’t reference genetically modified wheat development. “New breeding techniques are valuable to breeders as the technology continues to advance, especially to public breeders of wheat who are excited to incorporate the technology into their respective programs. These techniques vastly differ from biotechnology, as currently defined, which adheres to strict regulation and serves as one tool of many for a breeder to use when overcoming challenges related to plant pests and nutritional improvements for the consumer,” the association wrote in its weekly news report.

The USDA Notice of Intent specifies broadly a process of analyzing new crop traits and determining which class of traits would be subject to regulation. APHIS has asked for public comments to “further define the scope of the alternatives and environmental impacts and issues for APHIS to consider.”

The ag industry in general seems supportive of APHIS looking for ways to streamline the approval process for biotechnology crops and crop protection chemicals for use with these crops. Whether that will be the end result is questioned by the industry. Comments supportive of a review or not, APHIS is on a road for changing biotechnology regulations as explained in the notice about an environmental impact statement.

The written notice from APHIS includes the following statements:

“APHIS is considering amending its biotechnology regulations pertaining to introductions of the products of biotechnology that may pose plant pest or noxious weed risks to reflect lessons learned from regulating biotechnology products since 1987, reflecting advances in biotechnology and address comments and suggestions raised by stakeholders. This update to the regulations will increase the efficiency and precision of our regulations.

“The proposed revisions would align the range of risks that may be considered under APHIS’ biotechnology regulations with both the plant pest and noxious weed authorities of the Plant Protection Act, to ensure a high level of plant health protection, improve regulatory processes so that they are more transparent to stakeholders and the public, and provide regulatory relief so that unnecessary regulatory burdens are eliminated.”

As previously noted, March 7 is the deadline for public comments on the notice.