- On Jan. 19, the last full day of Obama's presidency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration proposed regulations that would update definitions and enforcement for genome-edited animals and plants — both those considered plant pests and noxious weeds and those used for human or animal food.
- The FDA's proposals would clarify how the agency regulates animals and food that are genetically engineered. When it comes to plants for food, the FDA wants to establish baseline guidelines for ensuring that genome-edited food is safe for consumers.
- The FDA also wants to update its policy on genome-edited animals to account for decades of new technology and research.
As long as President Trump's administration sticks to the timeline set out in the law requiring GMO labeling of food products, the time to discuss genetically modified plants and animals is here. Published and open for public comment over the next few months, these regulations set the stage for the discussions over expanding and clarifying the status of items with edited DNA.
The proposals ask the public to comment on several questions. For the regulation on genetically altered plants for food, many of the questions ask about the relative safety in consuming the crop when compared with other methods of plant breeding. This addresses consumer concerns over whether GMO foods are safe to eat — even though studies have shown they are safe to consume.
Genetic engineering is controversial topic, but it has high potential for the food industry. Grains are often genetically engineered to repel pests or withstand drought. Animals can be genetically engineered for longer lives and higher yields. And fruits can be genetically engineered so they don't brown or taste sweeter.
The timing of these regulations is interesting. With their publication in the last day of Obama's presidency, they may have been put out in order to ensure that a discussion on genetic engineering at least begins. If expanding these definitions and pressing ahead with the GMO labeling law is not a priority for Trump, the regulatory part of the work may drag and languish. With these regulations published and accepting public comment, the conversation will be top of mind for many, even if the actual rulemaking is delayed.