The House Agriculture Committee's discussion draft of the 2012 farm bill includes a section on regulatory relief that includes provisions that would streamline and limit the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) review of biotech-enhanced commodities prior to granting deregulation. Specifically, the provisions would eliminate the requirement that USDA's review include an evaluation of a biotech event under the National Environmental Policy Act, and instead limit its review solely to assessing whether the trait poses a plant pest risk or a risk to soil, water, air quality or non-target organisms, threatened and endangered species or critical habitat in the environment where the biotech event likely would be grown. The language is intended to reduce what many believe are frivolous lawsuits brought by consumer and environmental groups to delay deregulation of biotech-enhanced crops.
Under the legislative language, a biotechnology provider would be authorized to petition USDA for a determination that the biotech-enhanced trait is not a plant pest risk. Once the petition is received, USDA would be required to conduct a plant pest risk assessment and environmental analysis of the trait. USDA would have one year after the submission of the petition to complete the assessments and issue a determination, with the option of extending the review period for not more than an additional 180 days. If USDA finds there is no reason to believe that the biotech event is a plant pest, but still fails to grant or deny the applicant's petition within the statutorily prescribed time limit, the House bill language would require that the trait not be deemed a plant pest risk; an exception would exist for biotech-enhanced events containing pesticidal proteins, which are subject to review and approval by the Environmental Protection Agency before being deregulated.
The NGFA has been working extensively with a broad-based Value-Added Biotech Coalition that includes the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other grain-based agribusiness trade associations to review and assess the impact of this legislative language, and its failure to encompass the concerns of grain handlers, grain millers and processors, and the food industry over appropriate stewardship practices and other concerns related to premature commercialization of biotech traits. The NGFA and other agribusiness organizations historically have not supported legislating biotech-related issues, and are concerned the language will have unintended consequences in domestic and export markets. Discussions with the House Agriculture Committee’s staff on this matter are ongoing.