Washington Insider-- Wednesday

A New Evaluation for Genetic Technologies

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Grain Groups Urge APHIS Not to Rush Biotech Regs

Changes to biotech regulations associated with genetically engineered plants should be made in a cautious and deliberative manner, according to a statement by the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and four other grain industry organizations on plans announced by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) relative to GE crops.

The statement responds to an APHIS notice announcing that the agency intends to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIA) concerning potential revisions to its Part 340 biotech regulations.

Other groups joining NGFA in issuing the statement were the North American Export Grain Association, Corn Refiners Association, North American Millers Association and National Oilseed Processors Association.

“To create a truly workable biotech regulatory framework for the future, APHIS must take the necessary time and make the necessary effort to address the challenge of achieving regulatory coherence and compatibility in the global market," the groups said. “We believe that any changes to US biotech regulatory processes - including Part 340 - should be considered only after advance, robust and thorough discussions with competent government authorities in countries that represent important US export markets."

The groups also asked APHIS to develop a regulatory process for biotech-enhanced ag products that takes into account their downstream effects in the supply chain. Specifically, they encourage establishing thresholds at which the GE trait can be present in the supply chain.

APHIS should coordinate the review of its biotech regulations with an ongoing review of the Coordinated Framework for biotechnology being undertaken by other federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to the groups.

The concept of “conditional deregulation” for situations where a GE trait has been identified as not posing a plant pest or noxious weed risk should also be considered by APHIS, the groups said. This would allow owners and providers of GE crops to minimize the potential for market disruptions, by preventing such crops from entering the supply stream when doing so would conflict with regulations in important US export markets.


FAPRI: US Biofuels Still Driven Mainly by Policy

U.S. ethanol and biodiesel policy continues to be driven mainly by policy actions, according to the International Biofuels Baseline Briefing Book compiled by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI).

Global ethanol policy summary:

In November 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency published the 2014, 2105, and 2016 renewable fuel standard rule and 2017 biomass-based biodiesel mandate.

U.S. will continue importing ethanol mostly derived from sugarcane to meet California’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) requirement.

As of March 2015, the government of Brazil increased the domestic ethanol mandates from 25% to 27%. In Brazil, the state run fuel supplier Petrobras controls the ethanol blended fossil fuel retail price.

Canadian federal government mandated 5% renewable fuel in gasoline. Canada has provincial ethanol blending mandates too. British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario have an ethanol blending mandate rate of 5%, while Saskatchewan has a 7.5% rate and Manitoba has an 8.5% ethanol blending mandate rate.

British Columbia has a low carbon fuel standard that targets a 10% decrease in carbon intensity between 2010 and 2020.

The European Union implemented the EU Energy and Climate Change Package in April 2009 and Renewable Energy Directive (RED) in June of 2009. According to RED by 2020, there needs to be a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990. 20% of the total EU energy mix would come from renewable energy and there is a 10% renewable energy blending target in transport fuel. Further, in April 2015 EU amended the original RED to include the 7% cap on crop based biofuels.

EU’s antidumping duties on bioethanol has restricted U.S. from exporting ethanol to EU for fuel use.

Washington Insider: A New Evaluation for Genetic Technologies

Bloomberg reported last week that the National Academies of Sciences have established a panel of experts to undertake a longer-term study of how advancements in genetic modification technology will require changes in the way the federal government regulates the technology.

The recommendations from the panel, which recently held its first public meeting, are expected by some to influence any future changes federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration make to their regulatory approaches, Bloomberg says.

As the panelists and many members of the public acknowledged at the meeting, the pace of technological development in this area already is seen as threatening to make current regulations obsolete.

A coalition of federal agencies, led by the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) commissioned the National Academies study to get a better sense of what the field will look like five to 10 years from now and what the agencies need to do to prepare for that future.

Robbie Barbero, assistant director for biological innovation at OSTP, told the panelists that the five-to-10-year period was deliberately chosen because biotechnology is evolving so quickly that predicting beyond that time frame would be futile.

Bloomberg suggests that to some degree, biotech advances of the future are already here. Genome editing techniques, which involve hyper-precise alterations to the genome of a plant without introducing foreign DNA, are becoming widely adopted. And, they are posing tough questions including whether these “edited” plants are even GMOs.

These questions were intensified recently, Bloomberg says, since USDA ruled that a mushroom genetically edited to resist browning does not fall under the agency's definition of a GMO plant that should be regulated. The mushroom case is the first time the USDA has cleared a first crop developed using CRISPR (clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats) technology, arguably the most powerful of the suite of new genome editing techniques that have emerged in the past decade.

Food advocates are incensed by this approach, of course. Jaydee Hanson, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety told the NAS panelists that “it doesn't make sense that plants like this non-browning mushroom can evade regulatory scrutiny simply because they contain no foreign DNA.”

However, Ethel Jackson, a genetic engineer who recently retired after several decades at DuPont, said biotechnology should be regulated based on the risks posed by its products, not its tools.

“The risks are pretty much the same as traditional biotech,” she told the NAS panel. “We need regulations that are predictable, timely and risk-based.”

NAS spokeswoman Jennifer Walsh told Bloomberg that the panel is scheduled to issue its final report later this year.

The group’s decisions will be watched closely, of course—but there is a real danger that even detailed findings by highly credentialed experts may be summarily rejected by anti-GMO activists who already are disregarding findings from hundreds of widely accepted studies. A key problem for ag technology is the fact that vast numbers of consumers are skeptical of the benefits of GMOs even though vast numbers of scientists say they are not only safe, but useful.

However, at least some of the emerging gene editing technologies are focused at consumers, while most of the previous uses were related to producer efficiency. It is hoped that the science panel will focus on the “beneficiary benefits” in their evaluation—and, perhaps reveal some new approaches that can attract consumers’ interests and reduce the drive to limit access to a technology the globe will need badly to meet future food needs in coming decades, Washington Insider believes.

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