USDA discusses biotech product approval process

Top USDA officials promise that all that can be done on biotech approvals currently is being done.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspections Service (APHIS) Administrator Kevin Shea testified before the House Appropriations Committee agriculture subcommittee on Wednesday about the current backlog of pending petitions for biotechnology products. Shea told subcommittee members that USDA planned to have the backlog reduced by half within a year.

In addition to Shea, witnesses included Ed Avalos, USDA undersecretary of marketing and regulatory programs. Avalos commented that USDA was committed to reducing the current petition timeline, which many throughout the agriculture industry feel is too long and costly, putting growers from the U.S. at a disadvantage with competing nations that sometimes see products readily available in a more timely fashion.

Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R- Ala.) also asked why the process to review petitions is so lengthy, stating that it took nearly 900 days to approve only eight products, and expressed concern that the “politics of biotech may be interfering the scientific review process.”

Also, during a House Agriculture Committee hearing Thursday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said it’s important that the agency not “short circuit” any approvals in an effort to make sure they stand up against litigation. When asked whether there would be some legislation that could speed up the approval process, Vilsack questioned the ability for Congress to craft something that could find a majority of members in the House and Senate.  

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