The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a new rule to make it easier for developers to market crops that are genetically engineered to produce pesticides, Chemical & Engineering News reported on 8 September.

“This new rule will provide critical new tools for America’s farmers as they work to increase agricultural productivity, improve the nutritional value and quality of crops, fight pests and diseases, and boost food safety,” EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler was quoted as saying in a statement.

The new rule would apply to specific plant-produced natural products that acted as pesticides and the genetic material that allowed plants to make the substances.

These substances, called plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs), were exempt from regulation under the federal pesticide law and the law that regulated pesticide residues on food if they were created by conventional breeding. However, the EPA’s proposal would extend that exemption to include PIPs created with biotechnology.

To qualify for exemption, the substances would have to pose no greater risk than those created by conventional breeding and it would also have to be possible to make them by conventional methods.

Developers would be allowed to determine whether their product met that criteria or they could let the agency confirm that it did.

The EPA said that exempting PIPs created with newer technologies, such as gene editing, would reduce costs for developers and lead to more pest control options for farmers.

According to EPA estimates, 80% of such products would be developed by small companies, many of which were developing their products for use on minor crops.

The EPA had registered PIPs for use on corn, cotton, soyabeans, potatoes, plums and papayas since 1995, Chemical & Engineering News said.

Its latest proposal followed a similar Department of Agriculture ruling finalised in May to streamline the regulatory process for approving genetically engineered crops.

Both actions were prompted by a June 2019 executive order from the White House that had directed federal agencies to overhaul the process for approving crops produced with biotechnology to speed up their entry to the market and reduce costs for developers, Chemical & Engineering News said.