WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2017 - President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican Congress should scrap a wide range of laws and regulations that impinge on free choice, including the ethanol mandate and biotech crop oversight, says a libertarian Washington group with oil, coal and financial industry ties.

Free to Prosper: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 115th Congress,” a 193-page manifesto from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), urges Congress to stop giving federal agencies broad authority to write regulations and rein in many of those rules adopted in recent years.

Specifically, it calls for rolling back Dodd-Frank financial regulations, repudiating the Paris climate agreement and scrapping EPA’s Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule – all consistent with Trump’s comments and the proposals of many Republicans in Congress. CEI also would block “a vast new endangered species power grab over large parts of the country” by paying landowners when property values are diminished. In addition to WOTUS repeal, Congress “needs to amend Section 404 of the Clean Water Act to restrict regulation of wetlands to the constitutionally limited navigable waters of the United States.”

The CEI appeal is silent on the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Agency (GIPSA) livestock rule and does not get into crop insurance or farm, nutrition and rural development programs. But it zeroes in on two areas important to commercial agriculture – the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which it would phase out, and regulation of products of biotechnology, which it believes are due for “significant rationalization and reduction of the regulatory burden.”

“The RFS is a textbook study in the law of unintended consequences,” CEI argues, because it “artificially bids up the price of corn, soy and other crops, adding billions of dollars to food costs” and “increases agricultural runoff, a major contributor to aquatic dead zones.” It also “enriches some corn and soy farmers at the expense of poultry, hog, beef and dairy farmers,” CEI says.

The treatise devotes greater attention to agricultural biotechnology, asking for streamlining of regulation of genetically engineered (GE) organisms that, it says, have been “studied extensively by dozens of the world’s leading scientific bodies” and in every case found to pose “no new or unique risks.”

“The expensive and lengthy review process is scientifically unjustified, but it adds millions of dollars to the development costs for each new GE variety,” it says. “The cost and complexity of complying with these regulatory strictures have concentrated GE product development in the hands of just six major seed corporations, and has made it uneconomical to use genetic engineering to develop improved varieties of all but major commodity crops.”

Since 1989, six studies by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine have concluded that “no scientific justification exists for regulating genetically engineered organisms any differently from conventionally bred varieties,” CEI says. Two decades of commercial experience “has shown early concerns about genetic engineering to be unwarranted,” it says. Still, “regulatory hurdles add years of unnecessary delay to the development process and an estimated $6 million to $15 million or more to development costs for each new variety.”

CEI adds, “The time is ripe for significant rationalization and reduction of the regulatory burden placed on GE products,” calling specifically for the administration to “exempt low-risk GE traits from pre-market regulation entirely and . . . advise the agencies to focus solely on traits known to pose potential hazards to humans or the environment, as well as traits that are genuinely novel, and for which the risks are unknown.”

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Congress should repeal the recently-enacted National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, or at least monitor USDA’s implementation “to ensure that the rule it promulgates provides for the greatest amount of flexibility and the lowest burden for producers,” the report says. “Congress should in future years consider eliminating the disclosure requirement altogether, while still preempting state labeling laws” and codify longstanding FDA policy that reserves mandatory labeling for food products that have been changed in a way that affects safety and nutrition.

The national standard will be “quite burdensome,” CEI says. “Like the state laws it replaces, it will still prove expensive for food producers to implement, it will falsely suggest that some reason exists for consumers to be concerned about GE ingredients, and it may run afoul of the First Amendment’s prohibition on compelled speech that does not further a substantial government interest.”

CEI’s Gregory Conko speculates that “it is possible that [it] may one day be declared unconstitutional.” He notes that an appeals court has ruled in the past that states could not require labeling of GE foods merely to satisfy consumer curiosity.

The report also urges retraction of FDA’s guidance to reduce sodium consumption. “The FDA appears to be basing its policies not on sound scientific evidence but on the wishes of extremist public health activists,” it argues. “If the FDA continues on this path unchecked, public health advocates will continue to push toward greater control of our diets. Congress should remind the agency that its charge is to protect the public from acutely dangerous products – not to protect us from our own choices. What constitutes a healthy diet should be left to individuals to decide.”