Background

The Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has withdrawn a proposed rule that would have updated its regulations regarding the importation, interstate movement, and environmental release of certain genetically engineered organisms in response to advances in genetic engineering and understanding of the plant pest and noxious weed risk posed by GE organisms. This would have been the first comprehensive revision of the regulations since they were established in 1987, but APHIS states that in light of the more than 200 comments received it has decided to withdraw the proposal and begin a fresh stakeholder engagement aimed at exploring alternative policy approaches.

Under the proposed rule APHIS would have first assessed GE organisms to determine if they pose plant pest or noxious weed risks. If not, APHIS would not have required a permit for the importation, interstate movement, and environmental release (outdoor use) of the GE organism. On the other hand, if APHIS determined that controls on imports, interstate movements, or environmental releases (regulated controlled outdoor use such as in field trials) were needed, it would have worked with the requestor to establish appropriate permit conditions to manage identified risks.

APHIS states that many commenters objected to the scope of the proposal, with some fearing it could have resulted in APHIS regulating a wider range of GE organisms than necessary and others saying it would have narrowed APHIS’ authority over such organisms and increased the risk of their unintended presence in organic and other non-GE crops. There was also concern about the proposed risk assessment process, which some said would have been lengthy, cumbersome, and confusing and others said would have been insufficiently rigorous.

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