USDA

U.S. Department of Agriculture

(No developments since 6-28-18)

  • APHIS Announces Renewed Effort to Amend Regulation of Genetically Engineered Organisms

Following withdrawal of its January 2017 proposal to revise the regulation of genetically engineered organisms on November 6, 2017, APHIS is now relaunching its effort with publication of a notice of intent to prepare a new programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS), as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  APHIS explains that it seeks to address “advances in biotechnology” over the past 30 years and allow APHIS to more effectively protect plant health by focusing its regulations on the risks that may be posed by certain genetically organisms “rather than on the methods used to produce the products.”  APHIS also seeks to “make the regulatory processes more transparent while removing unnecessary regulatory burdens.”

Rather than identify any specific regulatory approaches now under consideration, APHIS’s notice broadly solicits comments from the public “to help APHIS further define the issues and alternatives that should be considered and to help APHIS identify additional impacts, both positive and negative, to the human environment that should be examined in the EIS.”

The deadline for comments will be July 30, 2018.

On May 3, 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced its proposed bioengineered food disclosure standard.  Consistent with the federal mandate signed into law on July 29, 2016, the proposed National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) establishes the first-ever nationwide labeling requirements for bioengineered food.  USDA is charged with finalizing its implementing rules by July 29, 2018, and is accepting public comments on its proposal for 60 days.

  • USDA Extends Comment Period for “Clean Meat” Labeling Petition

On April 13, 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) extended by one month the comment period associated with the U.S.Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) petition requesting the exclusion of products not derived directly from animals that have been raised and slaughtered from the definition of “beef” and “meat.”  According to FSIS, the February 9, 2018 petition has generated “significant interest” from stakeholders.  Comments must now be submitted by May 17, 2018.

On February 8, 2018, the United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) filed a petition with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requesting that the Agency establish a food labeling requirement that the term “beef” only be used to refer to products that “come from cattle that have been born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner.”  If USDA takes the requested action, manufacturers of new “clean meat” products would be prevented from labeling their products as “beef” or “meat.”  Industry stakeholders and other interested members of the public may submit comments on USCA’s petition until April 23, 2018.

The term “clean meat” refers to products that are grown in cell cultures from animal stem cells (also called “cultured meat” or “synthetic meat”).  The processes for clean meat production have developed along with broader advances in tissue engineering, many in the medical field.   The petition does not directly address how USDA should view meat derived from cows or other livestock bred with any kind of genetic engineering or gene-editing techniques (i.e., CRISPR).  While these products are still under development and have not yet reached the market, industry stakeholders should consider the potential impacts of any USDA labeling policies for clean meat on food products that may be derived from gene-edited livestock in the years to come.

The petition and public comments may be reviewed here.

  • USDA Clarifies Position on Regulatory Status of Genome-Edited Plants

On March 28, 2018, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued a statement to clarify USDA’s position on the regulatory status of plants produced through genome-editing and other innovative breeding techniques. Consistent with responses to individual letters of inquiry by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) over the last few years, USDA’s statement confirms that the Agency does not currently regulate, or have any plans to regulate, plants “that could otherwise have been developed through traditional breeding techniques as long as they are developed without the use of a plant pest as the donor or vector and they are not themselves plant pests.” According to USDA, such techniques may involve plant varieties with the following changes:

  • Deletions—the change to the plant is solely a genetic deletion of any size.
  • Single base pair substitutions—the change to the plant is a single base pair substitution.
  • Insertions from compatible plant relatives—the change to the plant solely introduces nucleic acid sequences from a compatible relative that could otherwise cross with the recipient organism and produce viable progeny through traditional breeding.
  • Complete Null Segregants—off-spring of a genetically engineered plant that does not retain the change of its parent.

While such plants do not require regulatory oversight by USDA, the statement notes that EPA and FDA retain separate oversight authority of biotechnology products under the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology.

  • APHIS Withdraws Proposed Revisions to Biotechnology Regulations

On November 6, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced the withdrawal of its January 19, 2017 proposal to revise the regulation of genetically engineered organisms.  According to the APHIS, it received 203 comments on the proposal, including many objections to its scope and concerns about the proposed risk assessment process.  In its announcement, APHIS indicates that it will begin “a fresh stakeholder engagement aimed at exploring alternative policy approaches,” while continuing to consider the comments received on the withdrawn rule.

On September 5, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced the launch of a new website tool to search biotechnology permit and notification data.  Previously, these data were available in various forms on the APHIS website and the Information Systems for Biotechnology (ISB) website separately maintained by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (popularly known as Virginia Tech).  Beginning September 15, 2017, the ISB website will no longer contain data for biotechnology permits and notifications issued by APHIS; these data will be available exclusively on the APHIS website.

APHIS reports that it has increased its data-managing capability and is bringing this functionality in-house to increase government efficiency and enhance user experience.  The data, which were previously also available on the APHIS website but only in a downloadable spreadsheet format, will now be presented both as a downloadable spreadsheet and in a user-friendly searchable format.  With the new tool, users will be able to search data by institution, article, action, type, status, state, genotype, and phenotype, as well as by a global search field.  APHIS intends to continue to improve the site by providing improved search functions and visual representations of data in the near future.

  • APHIS Extends Comment Periods for Proposed Revisions to Biotechnology and Plant Pest Regulations

On February 10, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) extended the comment period associated with its January 19, 2017 proposal to revise the regulation of genetically engineered organisms by one month, to June 19, 2017. On February 13, 2017, APHIS similarly extended the comment period associated with its separately issued January 19, 2017 proposal to revise the regulation of plant pests by one month, to April 19, 2017.

On January 19, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposed major changes to its existing rules governing plant-based biotechnology. The proposal would represent the first comprehensive revision of APHIS’s biotechnology regulations since they were first established in 1987. Comments must be submitted by May 19, 2017.