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USDA Policy on Gene Editing

On Mar. 28, 2018, US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued a statement that provides clarification of USDA’s policy on the oversight of plants produced through innovative new breeding techniques that include genome editing.

According to its biotechnology regulations, USDA neither now regulates nor has any plans to regulate plants that could otherwise have been developed through traditional breeding techniques as long as they are not plant pests or were not developed using plant pests. New breeding methods such as genome editing expand traditional plant breeding tools because they introduce new plant traits quicker and more precisely and thus shorten the time it takes to bring varieties with new traits to the market. According to Secretary Perdue, “With this approach, USDA seeks to allow innovation when there is no risk present”. Secretary Perdue goes on to say that USDA will continue with its regulatory responsibilities that protect consumers and plant health by evaluating products that have used modern biotechnology in their development.

This policy announcement from USDA represents a great boost to the development of new plant material using gene editing techniques. As stated in a previous post on this website titled “GEC’s vs. GMO’s”, gene editing is a genetic engineering technique that is used to precisely modify DNA within an organism; i.e., no outside DNA is introduced into the enhanced organism’s DNA in the gene editing process. Thus, genetically modified organisms derived from gene editing are different from traditional “GMO’s” that are derived from transgenic genetic modification where DNA from another organism is introduced into an enhanced organism’s DNA. USDA’s above-cited statement recognizes this difference, and this stated policy will be a boon to the development of enhanced organisms through gene editing techniques.

Hopefully, all entities both within and outside the agricultural sector will view this policy supporting genome or gene editing as a sound, forward-thinking step that will support the process of developing products that will support the ongoing efforts to feed a rapidly growing world population.

Composed by Larry G. Heatherly, Mar. 2018, larryheatherly@bellsouth.net