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EPA, USDA, and FDA to Clarify Overlapping Biotechnology Regulatory Frameworks

On May 8, 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a joint plan to identify areas of ambiguity, gaps, or uncertainty in their coordinated regulation of biotechnology products. Consistent with a directive issued by President Biden in September 2022, the agencies’ plan identifies specific issues that each has either recently addressed or will work to address to promote such products’ safe use.

Key Takeaways

  • What Happened: EPA, USDA, and FDA issued a joint plan for regulatory reform under their Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology.
  • Who’s Impacted: Developers of PIPs, modified mosquitos, biopesticides, and other biotechnology products under EPA’s jurisdiction.
  • What Should They Consider Doing in Response: Watch the three agencies’ regulatory dockets closely and consider submitting comments once new rules or draft guidance are published that may affect their products.

Background

President Biden’s executive order defined “biotechnology” as “technology that applies to or is enabled by life sciences innovation or product development.” Biotechnology products thus may include organisms (plants, animals, fungi, or microbes) developed through genetic engineering or manipulation, products derived from such organisms, and products produced via cell-free synthesis. These products may, in turn, be regulated under the overlapping statutory frameworks of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), Federal Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA), Plant Pest Act (PPA), Federal Meat Inspection Act, Poultry Products Inspection Act, and more. Therefore, close coordination between EPA, USDA, and FDA is essential to ensure effective and efficient regulation of biotechnology products.

EPA Sets Sights on PIPs, Mosquitos, and Biopesticide Products

The agencies’ newly released plan identifies five biotechnology product categories where regulatory clarification or simplification are warranted: (1) modified plants; (2) modified animals; (3) modified microorganisms; (4) human drugs, biologics, and medical devices; and (5) cross-cutting issues. Under the new plan, EPA is engaged in all but the fourth category above.

For example, EPA has already taken steps to clarify its regulation of modified plant products, such as exempting from regulation under FIFRA and FFDCA certain plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs) created in plants using newer technologies. EPA next plans to address the scope of plant regulator PIPs and update its 2007 guidance on small-scale field testing of PIPs to reflect technological developments and harmonize with USDA containment measures.

Regarding modified animal products, EPA intends to work with USDA and FDA to coordinate and provide updated information on the regulation of modified insect and invertebrate pests. Specifically, EPA intends to provide efficacy testing guidance on genetically modified mosquitos intended for population control. As outlined in guidance published by FDA in October 2017, products intended to reduce the population of mosquitoes by killing them or interfering with their growth or development are considered “pesticides” subject to regulation by EPA, while products intended to reduce the virus/pathogen load within mosquitoes or prevent mosquito-borne disease in humans or animals are considered “new animal drugs” subject to regulation by FDA.

EPA also now intends to prioritize its review of biopesticide applications, provide technical assistance to biopesticide developers, and collaborate with state pesticide regulators to help bring new biopesticide products to market more quickly.

Further, the three agencies are making efforts to collaborate with each other and with the regulated community. The agencies jointly released plain-language information on regulatory roles, responsibilities, and processes for biotechnology products in November 2023 and now intend to explore the development of a web portal that would direct developers to the appropriate agency or office overseeing their product’s development or regulatory status. The agencies also intend to develop a mechanism for a product developer to meet with all agencies at once early in a product’s development process to clarify the agencies’ respective jurisdictions and provide initial regulatory guidance; to update their joint information-sharing memorandum of understanding; and to formally update the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology by the end of the year.

Biotechnology product developers should closely monitor EPA, USDA, and FDA’s progress on the actions described above, as well as other USDA- and FDA-specific regulatory moves. Developers should assess the regulatory barriers to their products’ entry to market, consider potential fixes, and be prepared to submit feedback as the agencies propose new rules or issue draft guidance for comment.

© 2024 Beveridge & Diamond PC
by: Alan J. Sachs, Jack B. Zietman of Beveridge & Diamond PC

For more news on EPA, USDA, and FDA guidance, visit the NLR Administrative & Regulatory section.

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