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Catching Up With the Times

The White House has ordered a review of how biotechnology products are regulated. The current system, developed in 1986, is outdated, confusing, and didn't anticipate the arrival of newer tools and technologies, a White House blog post says.

John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and his colleagues then direct the three agencies involved in the regulation of biotech products — the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration — to update the regulatory framework as well as commission an analysis of the future biotech product landscape and develop a long-term strategy so that the framework can handle new products.

Right now, NPR notes that the Department of Agriculture ensures that genetically modified organisms don't pose a threat to the environment, EPA approve crops with genes that produce insecticides, and the FDA determines whether they are safe to eat. "In general, the system treats GMOs like any other crop, food, or pesticide," NPR says.

Navigating the different agencies can be tricky for developers, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization welcomes the review, according to the New York Times, as it says the current approach is slow. At the same time, the Times says the Center for Science in the Public Interest also says a review is needed to instill public confidence in the system.

An updated framework may also give regulators the opportunity to figure out how to address gene-editing technologies, CSPI's Greg Jaffe adds at NPR.