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Drastic changes in the regulation of agricultural biotechnology products might lie ahead for many no-tillers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering an overhaul of the regulations to include consideration of the environmental impact of biotech crops. Since 1987, when the USDA began regulating biotech products, the regulations emphasized only biotech’s effect on human health.
The change to consider environmental impact could hamper the commercialization of biotech products being developed to provide pharmaceutical drugs and industrial chemicals. Critics believe these genetically engineered crops could become mixed with food crops and thus endanger people and the food supply. The food industry is one of the groups advocating stricter control of biotech crops.
USDA also is contemplating reducing its oversight of types of biotech products that have been on the market for years, including the genetically modified seeds that produce their own insect resistance or herbicide tolerance, and easing a zero-tolerance policy for unapproved biotech products that accidentally get into the food supply.
A department spokesperson describes the changes as a “streamlining” that would put more focus on products posing the greatest hazards through a “multi-tiered, risk-based approach” to the regulations.
However, the potential loosening of some regulations worries critics who think the changes are a step toward weakening biotech regulations.
The move to consider biotech’s environmental impact was recommended by the National Research Council, a group that advises the federal government on science issues and which also wanted the USDA to monitor biotech crops after they had been commercialized. The USDA…