USDA Considers Deregulation of Genetically Engineered Crops

Jul 28, 2011   

Since 2006, the U.S. Department of Agricultures (USDA) Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has issued over 70 decisions that deregulate genetically engineered (GE) crops, some of which include corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa and squash. On July 1, 2011, APHIS issued another decision deregulating GE Kentucky bluegrass.

APHIS, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) share responsibility for regulating biotechnology products, including GE crops, to ensure that approved biotechnology products developed in the U.S. pose no risk to human health or the environment.

APHIS has stated that it does not have the authority to regulate the introduction or transportation of GE crops under the Plant Protection Act (PPA) if the crop does not present a potential for new “plant pests.” GE crops that are derived from genes or tools of microbes are subject to regulations pursuant to the PAA because they are created from plant sequences that could be potential plant pests and pose a threat to crops within the U.S. The deregulated GE crops are developed using genetic material from other plants, such as corn and rice, and contain no microbes, and therefore do not pose a threat as a potential plant pest. The USDA has stated that the decision does not represent a shift in policy and that it will make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Critics are concerned that the deregulation of GE crops may affect the campaign for mandatory labeling of GE products. The FDA issued draft guidance in 2001 for voluntary GE labeling, but has not updated the document since. Critics of GE crops argue that consumers have a right to know what is in their food, including animal genes. Proponents of GE crops state that labels on GE food imply a warning about health effects, whereas no significant differences between GE and conventional foods have been detected. If a nutritional or allergenic difference were found in a GE food, current FDA regulations require a label to that effect. Currently, no GE foods on the market or under review contain animal genes.

For more information on current USDA, EPA, and FDA authority, procedure, or regulations regarding genetically engineered products please contact us at