GMO Canola field

A change in the way the USDA rules on regulatory reviews of genetically modified foods spells good news for biotech companies. The new changes will speed up the review process phase in approving plants and animals created through genetic modification.

The agency aims to trim the review time in half from its current average of three years, which developed over the course of the last several decades as public concern over the human health and environmental risks of genetically modified foods continues to rise, leading to more demands, legal challenges and public comment periods.

But the lengthy approval process is hindering the technology, according to industry members who see the delayed approval as increasing the likelihood of biotech giants like Monsanto losing market share to competing brands and countries able to develop and push to market the latest in biotech sooner than U.S. companies. Reducing the approval time would equate to significant financial gains for seed and chemical companies able to push out newer items at a faster pace, according to the industry.

Under the proposed changes, which are scheduled to be announced by the agency later this month, the USDA will invite public comments to begin as soon as companies file the required complete petition for deregulation of a genetically modified seed. This process used to come at the end of the review, often adding months to the review and approval time.

Congress is also pitching in by increasing the USDA’s Animal and Plant Heath Inspection Service budget to a record high of $18 million this year (up from $13 million in 2011). APHIS conducts the environmental and human health risk assessment for every biotech crop submitted to the USDA for approval. To date, virtually every GMO seed or crop that has been presented to the USDA has been granted deregulation.

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Image: jemasmith