Plant breeders who use gene-editing techniques without introducing genes from another species won’t be regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a news release that the agency “does not regulate or have any plans to regulate plants that could otherwise have been developed through traditional breeding techniques,” providing they are not plant pests or developed using plant pests.
Wired online reports the USDA decision could reduce development costs for plant breeders and hasten the introduction of more gene-edited specialty crops in supermarkets.
The USDA statement was further confirmation of a 2016 decision by the USDA not to regulate a non-browning mushroom developed by the CRISPR gene-editing technology. CRISPR is an acronym for clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats.
According to a report on the journal Nature, Yinong Yang, a plant pathologist at Pennsylvania State University, engineered the common white button mushroom to resist browning by deleting a handful of genes that create an enzyme that causes browning. The variety has not been sold to consumers.
CRISPR is a gene editing tool that allows a researcher to disable a gene or add a desirable trait by modifying a gene in a specific place in a genome. The anti-browning mushroom was the first CRISPR gene-edited organism to be considered for non-regulated status by the USDA.
The USDA said in a news release that genome editing expands traditional plant breeding tools because the technology can introduce new plant traits more quickly and precisely. That could save many years of development time in bringing new varieties to growers, the agency said.
“With this approach, USDA seeks to allow innovation when there is no risk present,” Perdue said in the release. “Plant breeding innovation holds enormous promise for helping protect crops against drought and diseases while increasing nutritional value and eliminating allergens.”
The release said USDA is one of three federal agencies regulating food developed with biotechnology. USDA’s regulations focus on protecting plant health, according to the release, while the Food and Drug Administration oversees food and feed safety and the Environmental Protection Agency regulates pesticides.