By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
On October 25, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and OPP, will be holding two public meetings to discuss FDA’s Agricultural Biotechnology Education and Outreach Initiative. The meetings will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina on November 7, 2017, from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (EST) and in San Francisco, California on November 14, 2017, from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (PST). EPA states that this initiative, which Congress appropriated three million dollars to fund, “calls for FDA to work with EPA and USDA to provide education and outreach to the public on agricultural biotechnology and food and animal feed ingredients derived from biotechnology, and the purpose of the meetings is “to provide the public an opportunity to share information, experiences, and suggestions to help inform the development of this education and outreach initiative.” FDA issued a notice on these public meetings in the Federal Register on October 13, 2017. 82 Fed. Reg. 47750. More information on the initiative and how to register for the meetings is available on FDA’s website. Participation is available in person or by webcast.
In the notice, FDA also invites comments and responses to the following questions specifically regarding agricultural biotechnology and biotechnology-derived food products and animal feed:
- What are the specific topics, questions, or other information that consumers would find most useful, and why?
- Currently, how and from where do consumers most often receive information on this subject?
- How can FDA (in coordination with USDA) best reach consumers with science-based educational information on this subject?
Comments can be filed in Docket No. FDA-2017-N-5991 on www.regulations.gov; comments are due by November 17, 2017.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
On January 4, 2017, the White House announced the release of the 2017 Update to the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology (2017 Update). The Update to the Coordinated Framework provides a comprehensive summary of the roles and responsibilities of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with respect to regulating biotechnology products. Together with the National Strategy for Modernizing the Regulatory System for Biotechnology Products, published in September 2016, the Update to the Coordinated Framework offers a “complete picture of a robust and flexible regulatory structure that provides appropriate oversight for all products of modern biotechnology.” Within that regulatory structure, the federal agencies “maintain high standards that, based on the best available science, protect health and the environment, while also establishing transparent, coordinated, predictable and efficient regulatory practices.” To help product developers and the public understand what the regulatory pathway for products might look like, the 2017 Update presents information about agency roles and responsibilities in several forms, including:
- Graphics that illustrate agency-specific overviews of regulatory roles;
- Case studies that demonstrate how a product developer might navigate the regulatory framework; and
- A comprehensive table that summarizes the current responsibilities and the relevant coordination across EPA, FDA, and USDA for the regulatory oversight of an array of biotechnology product areas.
In its blog item, “Increasing the Transparency, Coordination, and Predictability of the Biotechnology Regulatory System,” the Obama Administration acknowledges that while the 2017 Update represents “remarkable progress by the EPA, FDA, and USDA to modernize the regulatory system for biotechnology products, much work remains.” EPA, FDA, and USDA will consider the comments submitted in response to the proposed 2017 Update and information gathered during the three public engagement sessions hosted by EPA, FDA, and USDA to inform ongoing and future agency activities. In addition, the agencies commissioned an independent study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on future biotechnology products. When completed, the agencies will consider the study’s findings, as well as the comments. More information on the Update to the Coordinated Framework will be available in our forthcoming memorandum, which will be available on our website under the key phrase biobased products, biotechnology.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released a pre-publication version of a Federal Register notice to be issued on August 16, 2016, extending the deadline to submit comments on draft Pesticide Registration Notice (PRN) 2016-X from August 15, 2016, to September 14, 2016. A discussion of draft PRN 2016-X, which proposes to update Section 5 of PRN 97-2, and to clarify and update criteria by which EPA classifies crops as “minor use,” is discussed in our blog item EPA Solicits Comments on Updated Method for Establishing Economic Minor Use.
In the notice extending the comment period, EPA noted that the current comment period is “one of the busiest times of year for pest control experts” and provides an extension that “will allow them extra time to complete their review and comment on the PR Notice.”
There is one comment that already has been submitted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which EPA stated it consulted prior to releasing the draft PRN 2016-X. In its comments, USDA states:
- Regarding acreage cutoffs, USDA supports EPA’s use of acreage estimates from the USDA Agricultural Census, as it is the “most reliable and comprehensive public source for such information in the country.”
- Regarding EPA’s proposal to apply a seven percent discount rate, USDA recommends that EPA be “open to using supplemental information in determining whether or not an alternative discount rate should be considered.”
- Regarding EPA’s proposal that all cases be evaluated using values for costs that range from 60 to 85 percent of gross revenue, USDA requests that EPA provide its rationale as to why this range was chosen. USDA states: “Although USDA understands that EPA is attempting to reveal the ratio of gross revenue to cost associated with the minor use rather than across an entire company, one could assume that a rational company would not pursue registering a minor use if the ratio of costs to gross revenue was exceedingly higher than the average standard ratio for the company. Qualitative information, as suggested by EPA, could then be used to further refine the estimate for this ratio.”
- Regarding EPA’s proposal to use study cost estimates provided by independent laboratories, USDA notes there are instances where data can be significantly more expensive than what would be expected generally and, thus, recommends that EPA “be open to additional, verifiable data a registrant wishes to submit that may indicate that its cost of data generation differs from EPA's standard estimates.” USDA also suggests that EPA “consider making the cost estimates it is using for individual tests available publically to aid registrants in determining whether or not they need to submit alternative incurred costs for studies they have conducted.”
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
On February 1, 2016, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced the dates and locations for the second and third public engagement sessions that will discuss the July 2, 2015, memorandum entitled "Modernizing the Regulatory System for Biotechnology Products." The second public meeting will be held on March 9, 2016, at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region 6 office at 1445 Ross Avenue in Dallas, Texas. The third public meeting will be held on March 30, 2016, at the University of California, Davis Conference Center in Davis, California. Additional details on meeting times, agendas, and how to participate will be announced in a forthcoming Federal Register notice.
The July 2, 2015, memorandum was jointly issued by OSTP, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Council on Environmental Quality, and directs EPA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to update the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology (Coordinated Framework). The memorandum also directs the federal agencies to develop a long-term strategy to ensure that the regulatory system for biotechnology products is prepared for future products, and commissions an expert analysis of the future landscape of biotechnology products. Last updated in 1992 and first rolled out in 1986, the Coordinated Framework outlines a comprehensive federal regulatory policy for products of biotechnology and describes the federal regulatory policy intended to ensure the safety of biotechnology products.
The first public engagement session took place on October 30, 2015, at the FDA’s White Oak Campus in Silver Spring, Maryland. Opening remarks were given by John Holdren, Ph.D., Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of OSTP. Roberto Barbero, Ph.D., Assistant Director for Biological Innovation at OSTP, gave an overview on what OSTP is doing and how, as well as the principles that have led up to OSTP’s current efforts. Representatives from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, EPA, and FDA also delivered statements on the federal regulation of biotechnology products. Interested parties in attendance included a number of non-governmental organizations that spoke out against the use of biotechnology, academic institutions that were supportive of continued research, and industry participants that were supportive of reasonable risk-based regulation to oversee biotechnology’s continued growth. A transcript from the meeting is available online.
More information regarding the Coordinated Framework is available in our October 6, 2015, memorandum OSTP Seeks Comment on Clarifying Current Roles and Responsibilities Described in the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology and in our July 6, 2015, memorandum White House Directs EPA, FDA, and USDA to Update the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology.
By Kathleen Roberts
On November 19, 2015, the USDA published Notice of the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) Meeting in the Federal Register. The meeting will review the purpose, history, operational process, and member responsibilities of the AC21; update committee members on relevant regulatory developments, initiatives, and USDA activities; and to outline new tasks for the committee to address. There will also be an opportunity for members of the public to make oral statements, as long as they contact Dr. Michael Schechtman (contact information below) about presenting a statement at least three business days before the meeting. The meeting will be held in Washington, DC on December 14 and 15, 2015, from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm both days.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On October 16, 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), announced in the Federal Register a public meeting to be held on October 30, 2015, to discuss Clarifying Current Roles and Responsibilities Described in the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology and Developing a Long-Term Strategy for the Regulation of the Products of Biotechnology (Framework).
The meeting is intended to discuss FDA’s role in responding to the July 2015 memorandum issued by the OSTP, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) entitled “Modernizing the Regulatory System for Biotechnology Products,” and will invite oral comments from interested parties. The July 2015 memorandum and the October 6, 2015, OSTP-issued Request for Information (RFI) to solicit relevant data and information to update the Framework are discussed in our memorandum Biotechnology: OSTP Seeks Comment on Clarifying Current Roles and Responsibilities Described in the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology.
The Executive Office memorandum directs FDA, EPA, and USDA -- the three agencies responsible for regulating biotechnology products -- to:
- Establish a working group to update the Coordinated Framework to clarify roles and responsibilities, and
- Develop a long-term strategy to ensure that the federal regulatory system is equipped to assess any risks while supporting innovation, protecting health and the environment, maintaining public confidence in the regulatory process, increasing transparency and predictability, and reducing unnecessary costs and burdens.
This meeting is another important step in the process to update the Framework, first issued in 1986 and last updated in 1992, to reflect better promising technologies routinely entering the market and, as the July 2015 memorandum provides, “to prevent unnecessary barriers to future innovation and competitiveness by improving the transparency, coordination, predictability, and efficiency of the regulation of biotechnology products while continuing to protect health and the environment.” Companies with biotechnology interests should monitor and participate in this process as appropriate, given its potential impact on the industry.
The meeting will be held on October 30, 2015, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (EDT) at FDA’s White Oak Campus, Building 31 Conference Center, the Great Room, 10903 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland. Registering early is recommended due to limited space. The deadline for written comments is November 13, 2015.
For more information or to register for this meeting, visit FDA’s website.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
In a bit of a surprise announcement, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Council on Environmental Quality released a memorandum on July 2, 2015, directing three federal agencies with jurisdiction over products of biotechnology, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to update the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology. The Memorandum for Heads of Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Agriculture, is short, but clear as to timetable and deliverables.
Last updated in 1992, and first rolled out in 1986, the Coordinated Framework is the blueprint for federal regulatory policy for ensuring the safety of products of biotechnology. The Coordinated Framework is of significant interest to the agribusiness community as USDA and EPA regulate genetically modified crops and plant pests. According to the New York Times, more than 90 percent of the corn, soybeans, and cotton grown in the U.S. have foreign genes inserted into the DNA to make the crops resistant to herbicides, insects, or both. While acknowledging the Coordinated Framework is working as intended in ensuring the safety of biotechnology products, the OSTP was quick to note in their blog item “Improving Transparency and Ensuring Continued Safety in Biotechnology,” that “the complexity of the array of regulations and guidance documents developed by the three federal agencies with jurisdiction over biotechnology products can make it difficult for the public to understand how the safety of biotechnology products is evaluated, and navigating the regulatory process for these products can be unduly challenging, especially for small companies.”
The goal of the update effort, according to the memorandum, is to ensure public confidence in the regulatory system, improve transparency, predictability, coordination, and efficiency in the regulatory system, and encourage and support innovation in the area of biotechnology and products of biotechnology. According to the OSTP blog item:
- “First, the Administration will update the Coordinated Framework, after public input, by clarifying the current roles and responsibilities of the EPA, USDA, and FDA in the regulatory process. This update will help clarify which biotechnology product areas are within the authority and responsibility of each agency and outline how the agencies work together to regulate products that may fall under the authorities of multiple agencies.
- Second, the Administration will develop a long-term strategy, after public input, to ensure that the Federal regulatory system is well-equipped to assess efficiently any risks associated with the future products of biotechnology. This will include performing periodic horizon-scanning of new biotech products, coordinating support for the science that informs regulatory activities, developing tools to assist small businesses as they navigate the regulatory system, and creating user-friendly digital tools for presenting the agencies’ authorities, practices, and basis for decision-making.
- Third, the Administration will commission an outside, independent analysis of the future landscape of the products of biotechnology. The Administration has already asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct such an analysis.”
According to the memorandum, the following elements will support the process to achieve these objectives:
- Biotechnology Working Group Under the Emerging Technologies Interagency Policy Coordination Committee: The Biotechnology Working Group will include representatives from the Executive Office of the President, EPA, FDA, and USDA.
- Mission and Function of the Biotechnology Working Group: Within one year of the date of the memorandum, the Biotechnology Working Group shall take steps detailed below and others, as appropriate, to increase the transparency, coordination, predictability, and efficiency of the regulatory system for the products of biotechnology. The Working Group will:
- Update the Coordinated Framework to clarify the current roles and responsibilities of the agencies that regulate the products of biotechnology, after input from the public; and
- Develop a long-term strategy to ensure that the federal regulatory system is equipped to assess efficiently the risks, if any, associated with future products of biotechnology while supporting innovation, protecting health and the environment, maintaining public confidence in the regulatory process, increasing transparency and predictability, and reducing unnecessary costs and burdens.
- Independent Assessment: EPA, FDA, and USDA shall commission an external, independent analysis of the future landscape of biotechnology products that will identify (1) potential new risks and frameworks for risk assessment, and (2) areas in which the risks or lack of risks relating to the products of biotechnology are well understood. The review will help inform future policy making. Due to the rapid pace of change in this arena, an external analysis should be completed at least every five years.
- Budgeting for Efficiency: EPA, FDA, and USDA shall work with OSTP and OMB, within the annual President’s budget formulation process, to develop a plan for supporting the implementation of this memo in agency fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget requests and, as appropriate, in future budget submissions.
- Annual Reporting: For at least five years, starting one year after the release of the strategy described above, the Biotechnology Working Group will produce an annual report on specific steps that agencies are taking to implement that strategy and any other steps that the agencies are taking to improve the transparency, coordination, predictability, and efficiency of the regulation of biotechnology products. This report will be made available to the public by the Executive Office of the President.
A number of reports have .issued in the recent past calling for exactly what the Administration announced on July 2. Last year, the Venter Institute issued a landmark analysis of the domestic biotechnology regulatory system in which it highlighted the critical need for modernizing the Coordinated Framework. J. Craig Venter Institute. Synthetic Biology and the U.S. Biotechnology Regulatory System: Challenges and Options (May 2014).
More recently, the National Research Council of the National Academies issued, on March 13, 2015, Industrialization of Biology: A Roadmap to Accelerate the Advance Manufacturing of Chemicals. The report, prepared by the Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology, Board on Life Sciences, Division on Earth and Life Studies, identified the challenges and opportunities posed by the current regulatory system relating to biotechnology and synthetic biology.
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Synthetic Biology Project issued a statement praising the Administration’s decision: “The Synthetic Biology Project supports the effort by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to update the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology to address emerging technologies like synthetic biology.” The statement goes on to say: “We see this as a positive development and one that is long overdue considering the rapid advancement of biotech-related fields like synthetic biology.”
A forthcoming report from the Synthetic Biology Project examines the regulatory pathways of new applications that are close to entering the market. That report finds confusion about the regulatory jurisdiction of different agencies in the framework and questions which statutes apply to the applications. Earlier this year, the Project released an interactive, crowdsourced inventory to track applications and products that utilize synthetic biology techniques.
The memorandum is welcome news as the Coordinated Framework needs updating for all the reasons outlined in the reports noted above. Despite the Framework’s inherent elasticity and nimbleness, the pace of innovation and complexity of new biotechnology products require a modernized, forward-focused framework.
By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Susan Hunter Youngren, Ph.D.
On April 15, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) held a one-day workshop regarding assessing risks to endangered and threatened species from pesticides. This workshop was intended to provide a forum for stakeholders to offer scientific and technical feedback on the ongoing agency efforts to develop draft Biological Evaluations (BE) for three pilot chemicals (chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion) in response to the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) report “Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides.” The workshop was the fourth interagency workshop on this issue, and follows previously-held public meetings in November and December 2013, April 2014, and October 2014, and was held as part of the enhancement of the stakeholder engagement process finalized in March 2013. A copy of the Fourth ESA Stakeholder Workshop agenda is available online. The Interagency presentations are also available online.
This workshop presentations and discussion appeared to demonstrate progress among the agencies in coordinating their work to address the issues that have been the subject of this and prior workshops. The presentation content exhibited a better understanding of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) evaluation process by the Services, and the presentations themselves allowed for more interaction between the presenters and participants; some of the question and answer sessions (conducted after each segment) included detailed exchanges of information among the participants.
To the dismay of some registrants and observers, however, as the various evaluation models were described, and an avian case study presented, the direction of the joint analyses seemed to be moving towards the marriage of very conservative EPA assessment models and assumptions with the Services’ desire to avoid any potential impacts on individual members of a protected species and any habitat. Should this direction not change, the Endangered Species Act pilot assessments could be very conservative and indicate what many may believe is an unwarranted need for significant changes in some current pesticide labels. Simply put, from a registrant perspective, the good news is that the agencies are cooperating and working better together; the bad news is that both EPA and the Services appear to be planning to use very conservative models and assumptions, which could result in proposals for severe restrictions on some current use patterns.
By Lisa M. Campbell
On December 15, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) wrote a report to Congress on the status of Endangered Species Act (ESA) implementation in pesticide regulation. EPA, USDA, FWS, and NMFS seek to refine their approach to pesticide consultations in an effort to protect endangered and threatened species.
The report was required by the 2014 Farm Bill and summarizes actions carried out by the agencies since receiving the April 2013 National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) report, entitled “Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides.”
Since receiving the NAS report, the agencies have:
* Built a collaborative relationship among the agencies;
* Clarified roles and responsibilities for the agencies;
* Improved stakeholder engagement and transparency during review and consultation processes;
* Held two joint agency workshops resulting in interim approaches for use in assessing risks to ESA-listed species from pesticides;
* Created a plan and schedule for applying the interim approaches to a set of pesticide compounds; and
* Hosted multiple workshops and meetings with stakeholders.
The full report is available at http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/endanger/2014/esa-reporttocongress.pdf.
By James V. Aidala
On June 20, 2014, the White House issued a “Presidential Memorandum -- Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.” The strategy is directed to all federal agencies and is designed to “expand Federal efforts and take new steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels.” The text of the memorandum lists a number of goals and comments on pollinator health, and has a focus on setting up a government-wide task force, along with directives about research into the factors affecting pollinator health and suggestions to improve pollinator habitat. The role and possible impacts of pesticides on pollinators are mentioned, but are not prominent. Specifically, the memorandum mentions that one of the strategies to consider is to include “identification of existing and new methods and best practices to reduce pollinator exposure to pesticides, and new cost-effective ways to control bee pests and diseases.” Finally, it directs the new federal task force to report back to President Obama in six months.
Six months from the date of the memorandum is drawing near (December 20) -- so now, where are we? In summary, remarks by those leading the task force (staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)) report that the response to the memorandum is now planned to be sent to the White House in draft form around the due date (the Holidays probably allowing for some schedule wiggle room), and that the public will be allowed to comment on the suggestions. That might mean a public release of the draft plan sometime in early Spring 2015, a date that coincidentally could dovetail with the beginning of the use season for commercial honeybee services (the almond crop in California begins to need bees around February depending on weather, temperature, and related considerations). No public release of the strategy is expected for at least 90 days or more. Private conversations and trade press reports indicate some slowness in convening and coordinating such a large and diverse group of agencies, as some agencies appear reluctant to participate in significant ways or otherwise are not sure exactly how or what their contribution to the effort should be (that, of course, is one of the main points of the exercise).
EPA and USDA have hosted two “listening sessions” on the memo -- on November 12 and 17 -- in Washington, D.C. Little detail was presented by the hosts; mostly it was open microphone with no advanced sign-up, so participants gave remarks in person or by phone. EPA and USDA did tell the audience that they would receive written comments on the memorandum if submitted by November 24. All of this public input will apparently go into the process of formulating the strategy. Many commenters, in fact most of those who spoke, had a “for or against” opinion about pesticide use and any possible impact on pollinators. Very few spoke of habitat issues or the research issues, even though those concerns dominate the text of the President’s memorandum.