White House to Update Review of GMOs
In an effort to ensure the public that the White House is concerned with the safety of biotechnology, the Obama Administration announced that they are planing to overhaul the convoluted approval process of genetically modified organisms (GMO) by fall 2016. But according to a White House memo sent to the federal agencies involved in the current framework, one reason for the review is to “prevent unnecessary barriers to future innovation and competitiveness”.
The current framework puts the review process in the hands of three federal agencies: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They each regulate different aspects of biotechnology. The New York Times article points out some of the issues of the current process: “The existing framework has some aspects that seem unusual. Genetically engineered animals, for instance, are regulated as animal drugs. That means the veterinary division of the F.D.A. is charged with determining whether genetically engineered mosquitoes can be released in the Florida Keys to help combat dengue fever.” And according to a recent Take Part article, if a genetically modified plant is created to produce a pesticide, for example bt corn, it falls under the jurisdiction of the EPA. The USDA presides over plants that have been genetically altered to be immune to herbicides and other chemicals, which now accounts for over 90% of corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the United States. The FDA makes most of the decisions about what is approved to be grown for consumption.
Critics argue that the safety aspects of the genetically modified plants and animals are not fully examined during the current approval process. Greg Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest told The New York Times, “While the regulatory system may be ensuring safety, it’s not ensuring confidence to the public that the products are safe...They are acknowledging that the current system is too convoluted and confusing.”
Given that the current review process hasn’t been updated in two decades, and there has been incredible advances in biotechnology in that time, it's high time the regulation process was revised. To be clear, this reform is intended to make the approval process more transparent and clear, but will not create more stringent requirements for GMO approval.
The White House will be holding several public meetings across the country this fall for the public to comment on the review process. What would you like to see come out of this overhaul?