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Beachy: Federal agencies should reduce biotech regs

Roger Beachy, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Roger Beachy

Agricultural biotechnology is overregulated, but federal agencies rather than Congress hold the keys to reducing the burden, a panel of experts told congressional staff at a briefing today.

As biotechnology traits go off patent, there is both hope and skepticism that generic biotech products can produce a new round of innovations because the regulatory process for future innovations is so onerous, said Roger Beachy, the founding president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis and the first director of the Agriculture Department’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture.

But Beachy told the congressional aides that the three agencies that have a role in regulating biotechnology — the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency — already have the authority to reach agreements among themselves to ease the process.

Thomas Clemente, a professor of biotechnology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said he believes the regulatory process would be easier if certain biotech traits that have been in use for many years could be declared “generally regarded as safe” or “gras,” which would mean that they would not have to reexamined when they are part of a new biotech product that is created.

Beachy said he did not want to discuss publicly what traits should be declared safe. Clemente said the problem is that there is not even a process for declaring traits to be safe.

Brian Wright, chairman of Agriculture & Resource Economics Department at the University of California-Berkeley, said that resistance to biotechnology did not prove as great as expected in the United States, but that further innovation has not been as rapid because the regulatory approval process is so difficult.

The event was sponsored by Americans for Choice in Competition and Agriculture. Chuck Larson, the executive director of the group, noted that members of the American Seed Trade Association and the Biotechnology Industry Organization are working on a framework for competition after biotechnology seed traits go off patent.