The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to exempt from its regulation some biotech crops that are genetically engineered to be toxic to damaging insects and other plant pests. 

The agency’s proposal follows implementation of a broader rule finalized by the Agriculture Department in May to streamline its oversight of biotech plants. 

EPA, which shares regulation of agricultural biotechnology with USDA and the Food and Drug Administration, must approve the commercialization of plants that are engineered to have pesticidal properties, formally known as “plant-incorporated pesticides.” EPA-approved varieties of corn, cotton and other crops that contain an insect-killing Bt toxin have been in wide use in the United States for more than two decades.

Under a proposed rule released Tuesday, biotech crops engineered to contain pesticidal substances would be exempt from EPA relegation if they could have been produced through conventional breeding and pose no greater risk than crops that meet the agency’s safety requirements. 

Plant developers that believe their products meet the exemption criteria would be required to notify the agency in a self-determination or ask the EPA to confirm that the exemption applies. 

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“This new rule will provide critical new tools for America’s farmers as they work to increase agricultural productivity, improve the nutritional value and quality of crops, fight pests and diseases, and boost food safety,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. 

“Embracing this technology through a transparent, consistent and science-based process is long overdue, and will secure benefits to American agriculture well into the future.”

The agency will take public comments on the rule for 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. 

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization, which represents biotech companies, welcomed the rule’s release. “BIO strongly believes these modernized regulatory approaches must be science-based and provide meaningful transparency to consumers so we can establish a system that drives innovation over the long term,” said Clint Nesbitt, the group’s senior director of science and regulatory affairs for food and agriculture.

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