New biotech regulations could speed development Genetically altered crops are the focus

April 01, 1993|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,Staff Writer

The federal government published new rules yesterday that could speed up the biotech industry's development of genetically engineered plants, though the rules were more stringent than those first proposed by the Bush administration.

In unusual accord, representatives of both the industry and the environmental community applauded the changes made by the Clinton administration, saying they were necessary. Environmentalists went further, however, saying that subtle changes in the regulations and the way in which they were reviewed signaled the new administration was far more sensitive to environmental interests.

"The revisions are a clear signal that the Clinton administration wants to revisit the biotechnology mess that was left by the Bush administration," said Rebecca Goldburg, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, a New York-based environmental group.

As originally proposed last year under the Bush administration, the regulations would have exposed the industry to far less scrutiny than agricultural biotech products were previously required to undergo.

The new rules, as printed in the Federal Register yesterday, cover corn, soybean, cotton, potatoes, tobacco and tomatoes.

Under rules proposed by the Bush administration, biotech companies would be required only to notify the U.S. Department of Agriculture that it was going to conduct small field tests of a genetically engineered plants. The notification could have occurred on the same day the test plot was planted.

But the new rules call for biotech companies, as well as university researchers, to notify the agency 30 days before the test begins. While stricter than the earlier proposal, the rules would lessen the regulatory review process in place, which can take months to complete.

That change will help companies like Crop Genetics International Corp., which is developing a genetically engineered vaccine for corn that protects it from a pest called the European corn borer.

The Clinton revisions published yesterday also eliminated an earlier provision that allowed university researchers to do field tests on certain crops with only the permission of a university review board.

While some universities wanted to keep the provision, others worried that individual review boards might not have the expertise or be consistent in rulings, said John Payne, the USDA's acting director of biotechnology, biologics and environmental protection.

Dr. Payne said changes in the proposal were made because of specific criticisms from industry, environmentalists and universities.

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