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White House announces plan to revamp GMO regulations

Just before everyone left for the Fourth of July weekend, the White House announced a plan for a major undertaking: A review of the laws regulating genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In a memorandum to the heads of the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Agriculture, the Obama administration said the initiative would modernize federal regulation of GMO crops, animals and microbes, but does not apply to biotech products in medicine.

US regulations for GMOs have not kept pace with advances in technology, the White House reasoned, and haven’t been updated since 1992. A major thrust of the memo is the call for more transparency, as well as inter-agency coordination to ensure the environment and public health are protected. It also states that the regulatory framework should allow for continuing innovation by industry, as well as public confidence in the safety of its products.

Today’s memo included three specific goals with a one-year timeline: (1) developing regulations that would clearly delegate responsibilities among the agencies; (2) creating a “long-term strategy” to increase transparency in the regulatory process and protect public health and the environment; and (3) commissioning an independent analysis of the future of the biotech industry.

Several organizations were quick to applaud the announcement. “Reform of the badly outdated system for reviewing GMO crops and other products is long overdue,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, which has been a staunch supporter of mandatory GMO labeling for food products.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which often urges the government for more oversight of food products but has not taken a specifically anti-GMO stance, also issued an encouraging response. “CSPI hopes the end result of the process that is starting today will be better regulation that addresses the real potential risks of [genetically engineered] products and assures the public that the approved products are safe.”

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