Nanotechnology, biotechnology, and synthetic biology are the ploughs and tractors of the twenty-first century. These precision farming tools are ensuring a sustainable food supply otherwise threatened by climate change and population growth, among other global challenges. Genetically modified E. coli is being used to produce synthetically derived pheromones, substances beneficially used in agricultural applications to attract, capture, and eliminate harmful pests. Nanopesticides and nanofertilizers are being effectively used in drought-stricken regions, eliminating or minimizing the need for conventional agricultural chemicals. These and similar technologies are essential to enable today’s agricultural professionals to compete with an increasingly unforgiving Mother Nature and an ever-increasing demand for food.
These emerging technologies do not come without potential risks, however. How to regulate them is a subject upon which stakeholders disagree.
Against this backdrop, this article considers emerging agricultural technologies, and discusses domestic agricultural oversight systems and their ability to keep pace with innovation. As discussed below, the domestic governance system is capable of addressing comprehensively the potential risks posed by these evolving technologies. The system, however, could be improved by better integration of measures to educate policy makers and regulators on these technologies, and greater involvement by the private sector in facilitating a predictable flow of information on these technologies to all stakeholders.
The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, P.L. 114-182, significantly amends the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The Act was signed into law by President Obama on June 22, 2016. The date of signature is both the date of enactment and of entry into force of amended TSCA. New TSCA fundamentally changes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) approach to evaluating and managing industrial chemicals, including genetically engineered microorganisms. The body of changes, the careful balancing of countless competing needs and interests, and artful drafting yield a statute that has been greatly strengthened and addresses virtually all of the deficiencies that have impeded TSCA's effectiveness over the years. The changes are consequential, and stakeholders in the industrial biotechnology community could be greatly impacted by them, depending upon how EPA interprets and discharges its new authorities. This article highlights key changes of which stakeholders should be aware, sets forth the law's schedule by which EPA is to implement the changes, and identifies opportunities for stakeholders to engage in rulemaking or other activities to help influence the implementation process to ensure that it is firmly rooted in a clear understanding of the science, and of the risks and benefits offered by products of industrial biotechnology.
The pathway to market for new products utilizing synthetic biology can be difficult to navigate, posing a challenge for companies in their efforts to commercialize new ideas, while the novelty posed by some of these products can make it difficult for regulatory agencies to evaluate risks. This report from the Synthetic Biology Project,The DNA of the U.S. Regulatory System: Are We Getting It Right for Synthetic Biology?, looks at the current regulatory oversight of synthetic biology in the United States through the lens of different products. The case studies in the report look at synthetic organisms, synthetic chemicals, biopesticides, biomining products, and genetically modified plants, which are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Our report demonstrates the regulatory complexity innovators face in seeking to commercialize their products,” says Lynn Bergeson, lead author of the report and managing partner at Bergeson & Campbell PC. “The report offers some common-sense and easily implemented solutions to help federal agencies do their jobs more efficiently and offers suggestions for the regulated community to be more proactive in expanding the technological literacy of the agencies with jurisdictional oversight over their products.”
The summer of 2015 was surprisingly busy in the industrial biotechnology policy and regulatory arenas with three important announcements regenerating lots of buzz. On July 2, 2015, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, the US Trade Representative, and the Council on Environmental Quality issued a memorandum directing EPA, FDA, and USDA to update and modernize the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology. A few weeks later, EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) announced a project intended to support public dialog concerning the development and use of biotechnology by developing a new algae “how to” document for Toxic Substances Control Act Purposes, and to help jump start much needed public discourse around the topic of biotechnology in general. Finally, OPPT also announced that it is updating its Points to Consider in the Preparation of TSCA Biotechnology Submissions for Microorganisms. Each of these developments is important. This article discusses these initiatives, offers insights on why stakeholders should applaud these opportunities, and urges stakeholders to seize the moment and to engage vigorously in them.
With little fanfare, on July 2, 2015, 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 issued a memorandum directing 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. Last updated in 1992 and first rolled out in 1986, the Coordinated Framework outlines a comprehensive federal regulatory policy for products of biotechnology. The memorandum could have significant implications for innovators in the biotechnology and synthetic biology commercial space.
Synthetic biology is delivering on its promise as an emerging scientific field in providing society with effective new sustainable products in diverse areas including renewable energy, contamination remediation, and medical applications, among others. As is the case with any rapidly evolving technology, the pace of technological innovation challenges regulators’ ability to identify and address adequately the substantial uncertainties they confront when discharging their legal obligations under controlling laws to ensure human and environmental safety. This article provides a brief description of synthetic biology, discusses the current domestic regulatory framework that governs the regulation of products of synthetic biology, and focuses narrowly on options and opportunities the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), innovators in the area of synthetic biology, and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)-regulated community at large may wish to consider to enhance TSCA’s core adaptive capacity to identify and address potential health and environmental risk implications posed by the commercialization of products of synthetic biology.
Consumer product manufacturers are challenged today as never before. Materials selection for consumer products invites a dizzying range of considerations: Are the chemicals hormone disruptors, carcinogens, or persistent, bioaccumulative, or toxic? What toxicogenomic biomarkers might make the product the next celebrity tort case? What labeling requirements apply? What are the implications of genetic variations among the demographic to which the product is to be marketed? These considerations, in turn, invite legal, marketing, and technical issues that go well beyond questions of core compliance with the law. What exactly is the professional's role? How are regional differences in regulatory standards, consumer perceptions, ingredient restrictions, and related factors to be addressed? Given the complexity of the global issues and the high stakes involved, what must a professional do to remain competent, socially aware, and scientifically proficient? This article explores these thorny questions, not to resolve them as much as to flag them, and urge professionals -- whether lawyers, product stewards, scientists, or others in the field -- to remain vigilant and as prepared as possible in recognizing the constantly shifting demands on professionals in this area.