A recent House Agriculture Subcommittee meeting appears to have shed light on the possibility of allowing gene editing in organic production. USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach expressed to the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research that it may be time to reevaluate some of the standards for organic production.
“We’ve seen new technology evolve that includes gene editing that accomplishes things in shorter periods of time that can be done through a natural breeding process,” said Ibach. “I think there is the opportunity to open the discussion to consider whether it is appropriate for some of these new technologies that include gene editing to be eligible to be used to enhance organic production.”
The comments seem to align with recent actions taken by the Trump administration, which has been more willing to embrace the continued to development of biologically engineered foods. Back in June, President Trump signed an executive order that will streamline the approval process for biologically engineered crops and other agricultural technologies. Ibach noted that expanding on organic regulations to include gene editing would create the opportunity “to have resistant varieties – drought-resistant, disease-resistant varieties – as well as higher-yielding varieties available.”
The testimony has received criticism from organic industry groups such as the Cornucopia Institute. Opponents of Ibach’s statements believe that the current organic standards prohibiting the use of genetic engineering (GE) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are central pillars of the overall organic industry. Current organic certification requires that products be free of genetically modified ingredients, artificial colors, synthetic pesticides, and antibiotics.
“The allowance of any GE techniques under the organic label raises legitimate ‘slippery slope’ concerns,” Director of Domestic Policy for Cornucopia Institute, Marie Burcham said in a blog post. “The USDA would be hard-pressed to find the resources to track allowed GE technologies and products in the organic sector, assuming they could summon the will.”