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Charting the future of plant biotech - USDA’s role unveiled


The American Seed Trade Association’s (ASTA) Vegetable and Flower Seed Conference recently witnessed a compelling session by USDA Undersecretary Jenny Moffitt.

Addressing a large audience in Monterey, California, Moffitt delved into the regulatory aspects of genome-edited plants, a key area in modern agriculture. 

Moffitt, overseeing the USDA's marketing and regulatory programs, underscored the significance of the U.S.'s scientific-based regulatory framework. This approach has been instrumental in maintaining the country's global leadership in biotechnology. She cited the 40-year journey of the USDA's APHIS in refining regulations to encourage both innovation and safety in agriculture. 

Significantly, APHIS’s 2020 shift in regulations marked a new era, treating certain biotechnological methods as equivalent to traditional breeding. This change has particularly empowered smaller companies, leading to diversification in biotech advancements beyond just row crops to include ornamental and nutritionally enhanced plants. 

Moffitt highlighted the balance APHIS maintains in promoting diverse agricultural practices, including biotechnology, conventional, and organic farming. She also pointed to the critical role of international cooperation, referencing ongoing dialogues with Mexico and Canada to align biotechnology regulations. 

Responding to Seed World U.S. editor Aimee Nielson, Moffitt emphasized the need for modernized regulations to maintain the global competitiveness of the American seed industry. She advocated for a government approach that is collaborative, understandable, and supportive, especially for newer and smaller entities in the sector. 

Joining Moffitt were global authorities like Petra Jorasch from Euroseeds, Janet Talling of DEFRA, and Lauren Comin of Seeds Canada.  

The panel unanimously stressed the importance of harmonizing regulatory language to support global agricultural progress, underscoring the necessity of innovation in the face of a dynamic world.

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