Wednesday, December 16, 2015

USDA Requires Permitting of Genetically Engineered Wheat

Written by M. Sean High – Staff Attorney

On December 11, 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) announced that beginning January 1, 2016, all field trials of regulated genetically engineered (GE) wheat must be conducted under USDA’s permitting process.  Prior to the announcement, field trials of GE wheat had been conducted under USDA’s less stringent notification process.  USDA-APHIS stated that “recent unauthorized releases of GE wheat and findings have led USDA-APHIS to the conclusion that U.S. agriculture would benefit from the increased oversight provided by the Permit process.”

Accordingto USDA-APHIS, during 2013-2014, two separate incidents of unauthorized GE wheat were discovered in Oregon and Montana.  The Oregon GE wheat field trial had never been authorized at the discovered site and authorization for the discovered Montana GE wheat field trial site had expired 10 years prior.  USDA-APHIS voiced concern that these detections “had great potential to disrupt wheat markets globally” and that some U.S. trading partners have imposed “risk mitigation measures to imports of U.S. wheat in response to [the Oregon] incident.”

USDA-APHIS stated that “[u]sing permits for field trials of GE wheat provides an additional level of safeguarding based on, and consistent with the technology of wheat.” Furthermore, the agency exclaimed that “[b]ringing GE wheat under permit enables APHIS to create and enforce permit conditions that minimize the likelihood that the regulated GE wheat will spread or persist in the environment.” Importantly, USDA-APHIS noted that through the more stringent permitting process, international trading partners will be reassured “that the U.S. is committed to being the world’s reliable supplier of grain.”   

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