The US Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has proposed five additional exemptions for genetically engineered (GE) plants.

APHIS regulates organisms developed using genetic engineering under the Plant Protection Act to ensure they are safe for agriculture and agriculturally important resources.

Under APHIS’ 340 final rule, exemptions related to modifications that could otherwise be achieved through conventional breeding are allowed to ensure the regulations remain current with technology and science.

Proposed exemptions, which would be in addition to current exemptions, included:

  • Plants that have any combination of loss-of-function modifications (modifications that reduce or eliminate a gene’s function) in one to all alleles of a single genetic locus in diploid and autopolyploid plants, or in one or both copies of a single genetic locus on up to four pairs of homoeologous chromosomes in allopolyploid plants.
  • Diploid or autopolyploid plants with a single contiguous deletion of any size on one or more chromosomes.
  • Autopolyploid plants containing any modification described in existing exemptions that previously applied only to diploid plants.
  • Plants with up to four modifications made simultaneously or sequentially, provided that each modification individually qualifies for exemption and is at a different genetic locus.
  • Plants that have previously completed a voluntary review confirming exempt status and that have subsequently been produced, grown, and observed consistent with conventional breeding methods appropriate for the plant species, could be successively modified in accordance with the exemptions.

The USDA’s announcement – published on the association’s website on 14 November – was welcomed by Pairwise, a food and agriculture company that uses CRISPR technology and gene editing techniques to transform plants and the production systems that are built upon them to deliver field-grown produce that could otherwise be achieved through conventional breeding.

“Pairwise commends the USDA’s proposal of additional regulatory exemptions that support speciality crops and better reflect the science of what is possible in conventional plant breeding,” Pairwise vice president, regulatory and government affairs, Dan Jenkins said on 21 November.

“We believe this science-based proposal can help smaller companies working in speciality crops work toward achieving nutrition and sustainability goals.”