The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in a statement March 28th, that it will not regulate most crops that are modified with gene-editing techniques. Previously, companies developing gene-edited crops had to request clarification from the USDA on whether or not the agency would regulate their product, and in each case USDA responded that it would not.
The USDA considers gene-editing equivalent to techniques traditionally used by plant breeders to generate beneficial traits without additional risk or need for oversight. These methods include DNA deletions of any size, single-base-pair substitutions, and insertions of DNA from plant relatives, however the agency will continue to regulate those crops that contain genes from other species in order to protect from pests.
Many seed-breeding and plant-breeding companies have been pleased about the announcement and see it as affirmation that gene-edited crops are no more risky that other new plant varieties. Eliminating this formal request regarding regulation also saves time to market entry and potentially tens of millions of dollars. On the other hand, some are highlighting that limiting risk assessment to plant pest risks does not account for other types of risk such as any to human health (which are overseen by the FDA). Is this a beneficial step that confirms that gene-editing is risk adverse, or is there need for concern that regulation of food is becoming more limited?