The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) launched the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology in 1986, which laid out how the EPA, FDA and USDA would share responsibilities for regulating GMOs to ensure their safety. But this framework has never managed to provide an adequate review of genetically engineered foods. The current system relies on analysis and data from companies seeking approval for their new GMO crops and fails to do any post-approval monitoring once these foods hit the market or even require labeling.
Just before the July 4th holiday weekend began, the White House released a memo to the EPA, FDA and USDA announcing a planned update to the coordinated framework, even though they claim that the current process “effectively protects health and the environment.” The memo says the goal of the updated process is to reduce the “costs and burdens” and delays for biotech companies trying to get products to market, increase transparency for the public and advance innovation. Besides updating the coordinated framework, the administration will also come up with a long-term plan for regulating GMO products and any other new technologies that will be introduced in the future. Additionally, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has been called upon to complete a study looking at the “future landscape” of biotechnology products that will inform future regulatory strategies.
Though we agree that the current regulatory system for GMOs is broken, it’s not clear if this new memo is going to fix it. A major red flag about the White House memo is that the administration’s motivation appears to be less concern about the safety of new biotech products and more about helping biotech companies navigate the regulatory system in a quick and painless manner.
We do have ideas about how the EPA, FDA and the USDA should change the current regulatory system:
- No GMO product should be approved for commercialization without the agencies themselves, not the patenting company, conducting a full review of its unique risks to agriculture and the environment;
- Use of the precautionary principle for the evaluation of new GMO crops, animals and food;
- Mandatory labeling of GMO foods;
- Prioritization of independent research that studies the human health impacts associated with long-term GMO consumption, including realistic levels of herbicide residues;
- Improve monitoring and inspections of experimental field trials to avoid contamination incidents that are continuing to occur due to a lack of oversight;
- Require post-commercialization monitoring of GMOs to avoid contamination and to protect consumers from accidental exposure to risky experimental crops; and
- Include contamination prevention measures in addition to compensation of parties harmed by contamination events. This burden should not be borne by the farmers who are contaminated by GMO presence through no fault of their own. Instead, patent-holding companies should create a fund that will compensate economically harmed farmers.
Hopefully the White House will not blow its chance to improve upon an inadequate regulatory system for GMOs which has allowed over 100 crops to enter the food system with little scrutiny and minimal transparency.
Food & Water Watch will be following this White House commitment closely over the next year, including three public engagement sessions that have been promised, starting with one in Washington, D.C. this fall. There will also be opportunity to comment on the process once the agencies develop a draft. Stay tuned for your opportunity to weigh in on this important process.