03.12.20

Chairman Roberts Listens to Producer, Scientist Perspectives on Biotechnology Regulation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today held a hearing titled, “Agriculture Innovation and the Federal Biotechnology Regulatory Framework.”

“As science and technology evolve, so must the regulations of these products. The Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology is the multi-agency, federal system that serves to asses any risks of new biotechnology products, to ensure their safety to the environment and to human and animal health,” said Roberts. “The key word here is ‘coordinated.’”

“The technologies being discussed today can provide solutions to deal with some of the world’s most pressing problems—food insecurity, disease risks, a changing climate. Bottom line: farmers want to utilize technology to meet growing needs in spite of increased pressures. The regulatory structure must be workable, risk-based. It must not stifle adoption of technologies and ultimately make the U.S. less competitive.”

To watch the hearing and read testimony, click here.

Click here to watch Chairman Roberts’ opening statement. Below are Chairman Roberts’ remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. I call this meeting of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry to order.

I welcome my colleagues, especially our newest Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee—Senator Loeffler from Georgia. Senator Loeffler has firsthand experience in production agriculture. Welcome to the Committee.

When I became the Chairman of this Committee five years ago, the first commitment that I made was that this Committee would put farmers and producers first.

I promised to be their champion and their voice, and to use this Committee to ensure that the government would listen to their concerns.

Much work has already been done on behalf of producers and the agriculture industry, and this morning continues that effort.

Agriculture biotechnology is certainly not a new topic for this Committee.

Over the last few decades biotechnology has become a valuable tool in ensuring the success of the American farmer in meeting the challenge of increasing yield in a more efficient, safe, and environmentally friendly manner.

That progress continues today through research that has led to new, innovative technologies. These include breeding techniques and tools that our producers will increasingly rely on to produce safe and affordable food to meet the demands at home and around the world.

As science and technology evolve, so must the regulations of these products.

The Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology is the multi-agency, federal system that serves to asses any risks of new biotechnology products, to ensure their safety to the environment and to human and animal health.

Established in 1986, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) each serve roles in the regulation of the products of modern agricultural biotechnology through the Coordinated Framework.

The key word here is “coordinated.”

There have been efforts over the years by these agencies to update or add to the Framework.

Proposed rules were issued in 2008 and 2017 at USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and, in 2011 at EPA, none of which were finalized.

Also, in 2017 the FDA issued draft guidance addressing animals with altered DNA through new technologies.

In June of last year, APHIS published a proposed rule to update and reduce regulatory burdens for technology developers of advanced genetic engineering, such as genome editing. This rule is currently under review at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Five days later the White House issued an Executive Order directing these respective agencies to modernize the regulatory framework to “facilitate innovation, ensure coordination across regulatory agencies, and safely enable billions of people across America and the world to reap the benefits of such products.”

Additionally, it is our understanding that the EPA has confirmed that the OMB is reviewing their proposed rule on Plant Incorporated Protectants in light of advanced breeding technologies, though scant detail has been shared regarding that proposal.

As all three of these agencies work to update guidance and regulations, let me point out, it is absolutely critical that they listen to those who would produce with and use this new technology every day.

There are many complexities experienced at the ground level by farmers, producers and ranchers interested in utilizing new technologies. These practical concerns must be considered.

Today, the Ag Committee will hear from some of those stakeholders.

These witnesses will testify about what they view as important in an updated regulatory framework. And, I fully expect that each agency will take these statements into very thoughtful consideration.

The technologies being discussed today can provide solutions to deal with some of the world’s most pressing problems—food insecurity, disease risks, a changing climate.  Bottom line, farmers want to utilize technology to meet growing needs in spite of increased pressures.

The regulatory structure must be workable, risk-based. It must not stifle adoption of technologies and ultimately make the U.S. less competitive.

In addition to today’s statements, I ask unanimous consent to submit two letters—one from 24 farmer organizations and one from ag state governors into the hearing record. 

Without objection, so ordered.

My second commitment after becoming Chairman was for this Committee to conduct rigorous and thorough oversight of the departments and agencies within this committee’s jurisdiction.

This hearing is an important part of that oversight process.

The Department of Agriculture, along with the EPA and FDA, do have a responsibility to establish policies that are science-based, timely, transparent, coordinated and functional for the industries that rely upon them.

I thank each witness for providing testimony before the Committee on this important issue.

Now, I recognize Senator Stabenow for any remarks she may have. 

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