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We Need USDA in the Driver’s Seat on Gene-Edited Livestock

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Howard “AV” Roth

Pork production, a key economic sector around the country, has been dealt a challenging hand for more than two years. Through no fault of their own – in fact, because they are so competitive in markets worldwide – hog farmers were at the tip of the trade retaliation spear, causing severe losses and considerable stress across rural America. 

Then, just as hog producers were expected to have a profitable year, the COVID-19 pandemic hit – another catastrophe for essential farmers who remained hard at work, even while facing a collective $5 billion in coronavirus-related losses this year. Blow after blow, some of it beyond anyone’s control, a vibrant and competitive farm sector is under siege.

To help pork producers through this unprecedented crisis, we need the Responding to Epidemic Losses and Investing in the Economic Future (RELIEF) for Producers Act, introduced by Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Richard Burr (R-NC), Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), to be rolled into the next COVID-19 package. 

While Congress works on that, we also need the Trump administration to act on a long-standing issue – regulatory oversight of gene-edited livestock. If addressed properly, this will help ensure U.S. pork producers and other American livestock farmers maintain their global leadership position for years to come. 

For more than two years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been locked in a regulatory tug of war over authority on genetic editing in livestock. Unfortunately, U.S. livestock farmers are caught in the middle, allowing China, Brazil, Canada and other global competitors to move ahead in the race to utilize this new technology.

Gene editing is used to make specific changes within an animal’s own genome. Gene editing will allow us to produce animals that are more disease-resistant, require fewer antibiotics and have a better environmental footprint.

Regulatory overreach by the FDA is preventing the United States from realizing the benefit of this promising technology. Even without a statutory mandate, the FDA is claiming regulatory authority over gene editing in food-producing animals. 

FDA oversight will treat any gene-edited animal as a living animal drug and potentially every farm raising them a drug manufacturing facility. Under FDA regulation, gene editing faces an impractical, lengthy and expensive approval process, inhibiting the necessary investment to develop this technology. 

USDA should have primary authority for new genetic technologies used in livestock. The agency already has a review process in place for genetic editing in plants under its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which can be adapted for livestock.  

While farmers continue to face significant headwinds beyond their control, the White House can provide certainty by making sure USDA has regulatory oversight over gene-edited livestock. 

U.S. pork producers generate more than $23 billion in personal income, create more than 500,000 jobs and represent almost six percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. 

These significant economic contributions will grow only by ensuring new technologies continue down the right regulatory path. America can’t afford to cede its lead in agriculture to other nations. 

I urge the White House to stand with livestock agriculture and see that USDA is in the driver’s seat of this promising new technology. 

Howard “AV” Roth is a fifth-generation hog farmer from Wauzeka, Wisc. and the current president for National Pork Producers Council. As the owner of Roth Feeder Pig, Inc., he manages a 3,000 head farrow-to-wean operation and grows more than 800 acres of corn and soybeans. Roth can be reached at 202-347-3600.

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