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WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week that it plans to revamp its regulations for bioengineered foods next year. The new rules are considered to be broader than the existing regulations.
"The science of biotechnology is continually evolving, so we must ensure that our regulatory framework remains robust by anticipating and keeping pace with those changes," agriculture secretary Ann Veneman said on Thursday.
The Grocery Manufacturers of America called the USDA's plan to improve existing biotechnology regulations a much needed step to ensure the safety of the U.S. food supply.
"As biotechnology advances, it will present regulators with new challenges for ensuring the safety of the food supply," said GMA director of environment and new technologies Karil Kochenderfer. "We are heartened to see that USDA has anticipated future developments in biotechnology and will take the necessary steps to improve the U.S. biotech regulatory system. In so doing, USDA will further strengthen consumer confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply."
In comments submitted to USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year, GMA called on the agencies to institute a comprehensive regulatory system for all biotech crops, including plant-made pharmaceuticals and industrial products (PMPs/PMIs). Currently, there are no comprehensive regulations in place to ensure the absolute separation between crops intended for human consumption and crops used to develop pharmaceuticals or industrial products, according to GMA. Under the USDA's proposed plan, PMPs and PMIs would be subjected to increased regulatory scrutiny and to more stringent requirements to conduct field trials.
GMA said it and its member companies would continue to provide USDA with input as the agency moves forward with its proposal to improve biotech regulations.
Since 1987, USDA has conducted more than 10,000 field trials of genetically engineered plants and organisms and approved 61 products, though fewer than 10 are in wide scale use by American farmers, according to a report in USA Today.