New techniques for improving plants and animals promise to reshape virtually every aspect of the relationship between humans and our environment for the better. Safer and more sustainable crops have already made enormous contributions to the economy and the environment, and genetically improved livestock and companion animals are close behind. Discovery of more precise, predictable, and easily used techniques derived directly from nature is dramatically accelerating this progress. But fears of the new have led to calls in many nations for “precautionary” regulation, which risks stifling agricultural innovation without any showing of need or benefit. There is a better way.
This report discusses proposals for updating policies and regulations for agricultural biotechnology products in the United States to ensure they safeguard public and environmental health and animal welfare without discouraging needed innovations. An authoritative review of 10 years’ worth of academic literature has found that the scientific research conducted so far “has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of [genetically engineered] crops.” This experience is evidence that the time is long past due for significant regulatory rollback in this field around the world. Good advice has already been offered as to the best ways for updating these regulations. Not all of it has been followed yet, leaving numerous opportunities for improvement by the new administration. This report recommends the following reforms:
- The Trump administration should enforce the mandate from the Office of Science and Technology Policy that agencies update their regulations and policies for innovative agricultural-biotechnology products, and that the revised regulations must be effective in preventing unreasonable risks while encouraging and enabling innovation.
- The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) should set aside its proposal for process-based regulations.
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should enforce the federal law prohibiting misleading food labels.
- The FDA should revise its current proposal for regulating gene-edited animals, withdraw its proposal for gene-edited plants, and develop new proposals to exercise its discretion in preventing unreasonable risks.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should not prematurely obstruct gene-silencing technologies.
- The Fish and Wildlife Service should immediately withdraw the prohibition on planting biotech-improved seeds on national refuge lands.
- The Trump administration should pursue efforts through the World Trade Organization to hold China and the European Union accountable for continuing to discriminate against crops improved through biotechnology, despite being obligated otherwise.