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CEO DATELINE – Ag associations push back at proposed biotech deregulation

Aug. 8, 2019
By Walt Williams

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Five associations representing corn, oilseed and grain producers are urging the Trump administration to rethink its proposal to deregulate certain types of genetically modified crops, saying that doing so could undermine consumers’ confidence in the food they buy.

At issue is a proposal by the Department of Agriculture to exclude gene-edited crops from regulatory oversight if the genetic changes could be accomplished through traditional plant breeding techniques. It would also give crop developers the ability to self-determine whether their products are excluded from regulatory oversight.

Most research has found GM foods do not contribute to human health problems, but that hasn’t stopped multiple countries from restricting the sale and marketing of such foods. In addition, consumer demand for “natural” and “non-GMO” products has increased in recent years, and the proposed regulatory changes could make it harder for shoppers to verify whether certain foods meet that criteria.

In a joint letter, the National Feed and Grain Association and four other agriculture groups call the proposed regulatory changes “fundamentally flawed” because they could lead to costly trade disruptions with other countries with strict GM controls. They also said the changes would erode consumer confidence in the U.S. regulatory system to provide appropriate oversight of GM foods. 

“We can ‘build it,’ but if U.S. and global consumers ‘don’t come’ (i.e., ‘don’t buy it’) the acceptance of this valuable technology could be imperiled and undermined irrevocably,” the groups said.

The other signatories were the Corn Refiners Association, National Oilseed Processors Association, North American Export Grain Association and North American Millers Association.

At least one other association has suggested the Trump administration should scale back its attempt at deregulation. In written comments, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization urged USDA to require food developers to notify the agency whether their foods are genetically modified and to make that information publicly available online.

“BIO’s comments send a strong signal that we are listening to calls by consumers for greater access to information about how their food is produced,” CEO Jim Greenwood said in a statement.