Soybeans in hand

Excitement surrounds new biotechnology rules announced May 14.

“They will streamline approval and expedite new soybean varieties. They let us keep our tool box full of tools to be good producers,” said Caleb Ragland, chairman of the American Soybean Association regulatory advisory team. “A lot of folks worked on this for a long time. We’re excited to get it done.”

Tony Studer, who specializes in crop genetic improvement and plant breeding genetics in the crop science department at University of Illinois, said he believes the new rules will lead to more and quicker innovation.

“To me as a researcher, overall, it is a step in the right direction,” he said, noting that farmers will also benefit from the “more responsible regulations.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the final rule — dubbed the SECURE (Sustainable, Ecological, Consistent, Uniform, Responsible, Efficient) rule — updating and modernizing the USDA’s biotechnology regulations under the Plant Protection Act.

The old rules were written in 1987 when biotechnology was new and few changes had been made, said David Ertl, Iowa Corn Growers Association technology commercialization manager. Under the new rules, he said new traits will be able to be developed much more rapidly.

“It will benefit farmers because they will get more traits, more quickly and hopefully cheaper,” he said noting that developers will save millions previously spent in regulatory costs.

“New technology will be able to advance and not get bogged down by needing approval again and again,” said Ragland.

Now, not every single mutation will have to go through testing, he said. Gene-edited plants that replicate plant changes through conventional breeding will be accepted.

“We are excited to see a rule that has so much common sense in it and we are able to move ahead as a soybean industry,” Ragland said.

The rule allows for exemptions of regulatory paperwork where the modifications are known to be safe, Studer said. The exemptions are based on more than 100,000 permits granted and expansive safety research.

“The rules are updated to reflect the science we have,” he said.

Some people worry the new rules will relax oversight, Ertl said, but he said that is not the case because FDA and EPA continue to have oversight and rules for environmental and food safety.

Studer said there will still likely be opposition to the new rules from people who are against using biotechnology or GMOs entirely.

“I think there will be some squawking,” he said, adding the comments in the document acknowledge concerns while emphasizing the rules are science- based, not based on emotion.

As for Studer’s own research projects, some will be suitable for exemptions, but other projects will still follow the full regulatory process. Work he does combining corn lines with higher yields with those that can withstand dry weather would be exempted.

Studer said he thinks the new rules will help the U.S. be more competitive with other countries.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.