WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 2016 - USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will prepare a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to “evaluate a range of alternatives” for updating its biotechnology regulations.

APHIS plans to publish a notice in the Federal Register this week asking for comments on what the agency should consider in the draft EIS, as well as on the definitions that APHIS plans to use.

Since 1987, APHIS said it has been considering amending its regulations that address “introductions of the products of biotechnology that may pose plant pest or noxious weed risks to reflect lessons learned from regulating biotechnology products, reflect advances in biotechnology and address comments and suggestions raised by stakeholders.”  It added that the update to the regulations would “increase the efficiency and precision of our regulations.”

“The proposed revisions would align the range of risks that may be considered under APHIS’ biotechnology regulations with both the plant pest and noxious weed authorities of the Plant Protection Act, to ensure a high level of plant health protection, improve regulatory processes so that they are more transparent to stakeholders and the public, and provide regulatory relief so that unnecessary regulatory burdens are eliminated.”

Last March, APHIS withdrew a proposal it had published in 2008. “Because of rules limiting ex parte communications with respect to active rulemakings, publication of the 2008 proposed rule has constrained our ability to talk about alternatives with stakeholders,” APHIS said last year. “Withdrawing the proposed rule will lift this constraint and provide for a more timely and transparent dialogue.”

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The formal notice of intent to prepare the EIS will be published in the Federal Register Feb. 4 or 5, depending on which APHIS announcement one received. The public will have 30 days to comment.

“APHIS will thoroughly review and consider all public input submitted during the 30-day comment period on the notice and use the information as it works to complete, and then publish, the draft programmatic EIS and the draft proposed rule later this year,” the service said. “The public and stakeholders will also have ample opportunity to review and comment on each of these proposed regulatory documents as APHIS determines how it will proceed.”