WASHINGTON—A final rule issued last week by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) threatens U.S. biotech innovation and creates new market barriers for small producers, University of Arkansas Professor Margaret Leigh Worthington told the Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics, and Research during her testimony at a hearing Wednesday on the farm bill horticulture title.
Worthington, an associate professor for horticulture, called the final rule on plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs) a source of a “great deal of concern in the plant breeding community” due to the “unnecessary regulatory burdens” it will create for producers and the fact that it puts the U.S. at odds “with a growing list of international regulatory authorities that have used a science-based rationale to streamline their policies to support the commercialization of innovative products.”
U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, introduced Worthington at the hearing and followed up on the EPA rule in his questions to witnesses.
“This rule will frustrate U.S. innovation, drive companies to export their staff, investments, and technologies to our international competitors, and create market barriers that only the largest multinational corporations can overcome. In short, EPA’s PIP rule puts American farmers and consumers last. More significant—it removes another tool from the toolbox that specialty crop producers—and all producers—so desperately need,” Boozman said.
Worthington agreed in her response, saying the rule is “going to disincentive innovation, and I think it is going to have a disproportionate impact on specialty crops, small and medium enterprises and public sector investment.”
“There has been so much investment through farm bill sponsored programs in research and plant breeding. We find all these disease resistant genes, we do all this work, and what this is going to do is make it more difficult to commercialize those products. Ultimately, I think you are going to see more consolidation in the industry with this regulation, and the innovation will be on a few large crops by a few very large companies. I would advocate for a more product- rather than process-based regulatory framework,” Worthington said. “I want to highlight that the new EPA rule is a setback for interagency alignment, it is in direct conflict with USDA’s recent revisions to its regulations and it is also out of step with a lot of other countries—including our number one seed trading partner Canada, which has a very progressive science-based policy on regulation of these plant-incorporated protectants.”
Worthington’s research focuses on improving blackberries, peaches, nectarines and muscadine grape varieties through plant breeding.
Earlier this year, she was part of a team of 26 scientists from across the world that assembled the first complete sequence of the blackberry genome. This achievement will be a great help to fruit breeders striving to develop improved varieties that are more resistant to disease and tolerant of drought, as well as have greater nutrition and better taste.