OPINION  Recently the U.S Department of Agriculture closed comments on its proposed rule changes to regulations in 7 CFR part 340, “Introductions of Organisms and Products Altered or Produced Through Genetic Engineering Which are Plant Pests or Which There is Reason to Believe are Plant Pests”.

The National Association of Wheat Growers believes the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is correct in its work to update and revise the current regulations. We commend their effort to streamline the process. The service can point to its learnings from more than 20 years of documented risks to plant health within its authority related to plant pests and noxious weeds when making those rule changes.

Modern biotechnology such as transgenesis and gene editing helps achieve an increase in food production without the need for more land area for agriculture. National Association of Wheat Growers members believe science-based decisions should be used to develop regulatory framework, and that regulations should not burden research investment with unnecessary costs or delays.

Our most important concern is that any rule change contemplated needs to consider its impact on importing countries of U.S. produced grain. The National Association of Wheat Growers encourages the service to develop and execute an international engagement strategy that defines USDA’s rationale on pre-market regulatory approaches. All foreign customers expect the continued oversight by USDA to ensure consistent food safety, which is fundamental to their confidence in purchases of U.S. wheat.

Further we encourage the service to be vocal about the safety of gene-editing technology, aiming their messaging at every opportunity to earn the trust of every U.S. consumer. Even if the technology is innovative and improves productivity, farmers will not purchase it if the marketplace will not accept it.

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Ben Scholz is a Lavon, Texas, wheat farmer and president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, a policy representative in Washington, D.C., for wheat growers, working to ensure a better future for America’s growers, the industry and the general public. The association works with a team of 20 state wheat-grower organizations to benefit the wheat industry at the national levels. Visit www.wheatworld.org for more information.