USDA’s relaxed biotech crop rules could speed plant development, but are regulations still too strict?

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A major change to U.S. regulation of biotech will exempt some gene-edited plants from government oversight. The new policy …. also calls for automatic approval of variations of established kinds of genetically modified (GM) crops, easing their path to market.

An engineered plant won’t be regulated if it contains minor changes—a change to a pair of amino acid bases or a deletion of a chunk of DNA—that would create a trait that could have been made through traditional breeding ….

The end product will be the same as what might be created by breeders, but gene editing can save years of effort, [Kent Bradford, a plant geneticist at the University of California, Davis] says. “This makes everything hugely easier.” But he’s frustrated that the exemption doesn’t cover more substantive changes or moving genes between closely related plants, such as peppers and tomatoes, which can’t be crossed with conventional breeding.

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APHIS estimates that about 1% of plants might not qualify for an exemption, or deregulation after an initial review. That’s welcome news to plant developers. “The new process established by this rule is expected to lead to lower regulatory costs and timeframes for the development of new plant varieties,” the American Soybean Association said in a statement.

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