NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Regulations on Biotechnology Hurt Innovation

July 30, 2003

While President Bush has publicly spoken in favor of biotechnology, the federal government continues to regulate biotechnology almost as strictly as the European Union.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in particular, maintains an inconsistent approach to regulating genetically modified plants with consequences contrary to the agency's stated objectives.

According to Henry I. Miller of the Hoover Institution, the USDA is supposed to ensure that regulation of new species of plants is "risk-based" and not focused on the "process by which the product is created." Instead, USDA regulations lead to riskier species of plants being approved while genetically modified plants are subject to an expensive, complicated approval process.

  • Plants resulting from breeding, rather than gene-splicing, are only subject to USDA restrictions if they are already a member of a group on an inclusive list of "pest" plants the USDA maintains.
  • Genetically modified plants, however, are automatically classified as "regulated articles" and any such plant is subject to review by the USDA.
  • Breeding results in thousands of new genes being introduced into a plant species with unpredictable results, whereas gene-splicing is a precise technique to target individual genes for modification.
  • Dozens of new varieties of plants created through breeding are introduced to the market each year without any government oversight, even though no one can be certain what genetic changes have taken place to create the new plant.

The USDA's intensive regulation of genetically modified plants discourages research on promising, safe new varieties of plants while potentially unsafe new varieties, created through breeding, are subject to minimal regulation.

Source: Henry I. Miller (Hoover Institution), "Misfires in Biotech Trenches," Washington Times, July 28, 2003.


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