Researchers are excited about genomic editing’s potential to develop new crop varieties without the controversial genetically modified label.
However, the regulation of genome edited crop varieties is still up for debate.
In March, the U.S. agriculture secretary said his officials won’t regulate plants that could otherwise have been developed through traditional breeding techniques.
“With this approach, USDA seeks to allow innovation when there is no risk present,” said Sonny Perdue. “At the same time, I want to be clear to consumers that we will not be stepping away from our regulatory responsibilities. While these crops do not require regulatory oversight, we do have an important role to play in protecting plant health by evaluating products developed using modern biotechnology.”
So, too, does the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the Food and Drug Administration. The latter doesn’t have formal guidelines on plant varieties using genetic editing, but has said it will rigorously oversee any animals altered by the technology.
In Europe, some farm groups and scientists are pushing EU authorities to take the same stance as the USDA. But many environmental groups and others want genetically edited varieties to be subject to the same rules as GMOs — a costly and time-consuming regulatory barrier that could prevent commercialization of such varieties in Europe.
In Canada, genomic edited products are defined as Plants with Novel Traits and regulated on a case-by-case basis.
“In Canada we’re fortunate that the process is not regulated — it’s the outcome or the product that is regulated,” said Terry Young, a farmer and chair of Alberta Wheat’s research committee. “That’s a good thing because then you don’t have lapses in regulation while people try to determine if this new technology is acceptable or not.”