Crop breeders see boon in deregulation push

With Catherine Boudreau, Helena Bottemiller Evich, Jenny Hopkinson and Maya Parthasarathy

BIOTECH SEIZES CHANCE TO CHANGE RULES: It’s a golden moment for crop breeders who regard the Trump administration as their best shot in 30 years to update the rules governing the approval of genetically modified crops, Pro Ag’s Jenny Hopkinson reports.

The upside: Biotech proponents call the rules out of date, arguing that changing them could make it easier for researchers to come up with healthier and more sustainable crops. That means growing more flavorful tomatoes, heat-resistant lettuce and gluten-free wheat. “If we can’t get it out of this Trump administration, we can’t get it out of anybody,” said Harry Klee, a professor at the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agriculture Sciences and the president of the American Society of Plant Biologists.

Boon for universities: Bill McCutchen, executive associate director for Texas A&M Agrilife Research says the latest gene-editing technologies shouldn’t require the same type of regulatory oversight that has been used in the past on other types of biotech crops. The technologies are also cheaper, making them more accessible to university researchers and smaller companies.

The first biotech crops used agrobacterium and other methods to introduce the desired trait into a crop, though they were often inexact in where the genes would end up in the new plant. However, newer gene-editing technologies don’t rely on transgenes, as the process of adding a foreign gene is known.

Crop developers can cut unwanted genes — such as those that convey susceptibility to disease, browning or other undesirable traits. They can also insert a gene from another variety of the same species, without adding agrobacterium or anything else to the plant. In fact, many gene edits could be obtained done by cross breeding, although at a much slower pace.

State of play today: Genetically engineered crops undergo a regulatory process that takes years, even for changes that might have happened in nature and pose no known risks to consumer health or other crops. It takes 11 years, on average, and about $136 million to get government sign off for a GE plant, according to a 2011 CropLife International study — far too expensive for any but the biggest players.

Consumers say “not so fast”: Read more here…

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