Trump administration’s USDA limits oversight of genetically engineered and gene edited crops


Majority will now receive no USDA oversight

A majority of genetically engineered and gene edited plants now will escape any oversight on the part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture under revised regulations issued today by the agency. Despite a unified position from environmental groups, consumer organizations, biotech crop developers, and food industry stakeholders imploring USDA to eliminate a provision allowing crop developers to self-determine whether their products are regulated, the Trump administration refused to require developers to even notify the agency of products they believe are exempt under the new regulations. 

“The result is that government regulators and the public will have no idea what products will enter the market and whether those products appropriately qualified for an exemption from oversight,” said CSPI biotechnology project director Gregory Jaffe. “They will stealthily enter our food supply at a time when consumers want greater transparency, leading to potential consumer backlash and acceptance problems, even for safe and beneficial products. That is why many industry members supported increased transparency.”

“There is a need for adequate safeguards and effective regulatory oversight to ensure that there aren’t unintended consequences to biodiversity from these new technologies but unfortunately, USDA’s rule falls short of achieving this,” said Aviva Glaser, director of agriculture policy at the National Wildlife Federation.

“Consumers have a right to know how gene editing is being used to produce the foods they buy in the market,” said Consumer Federation of America director of food policy for the Thomas Gremillion. “This rule will undermine public confidence in the food supply, and ultimately set back beneficial uses of this technology.”

Historically, USDA has regulated most genetically engineered plants by requiring notification and permits for field research and a USDA determination that those plants do not cause harm before they are commercially planted by farmers. The new Trump Administration policy is not based on a risk assessment with scientific data that found the exempt plant safe, but instead is the result of USDA’s narrow reading of its statutory authority and its wish to deregulate wherever possible. 

 “While some genetically engineered products are safe and beneficial, the federal government needs a regulatory system that tracks product development and ensures safety before products are marketed,” Jaffe said. “We support science- and risk-based federal oversight of genetically engineered plants to ensure they are safe to humans and the environment before they are released for cultivation or restoration, but today’s final regulation does not achieve that result.”

CSPI, Consumer Federation of America, the National Wildlife Federation, and Environmental Defense Fund jointly submitted comments to USDA on their proposed rule in August 2019.