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July 11, 2023

USDA Reviews Soybean, Tomato, and Potato Plants Modified Using Genetic Engineering

Lynn L Bergeson

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced on June 27, 2023, that it recently reviewed soybean, tomato, and potato plants modified using genetic engineering. APHIS reviewed the plants to determine whether they presented an increased plant pest risk compared to similar cultivated soybean, tomato, and potato plants:

  • InnerPlant modified two soybean plants and one tomato plant to produce an optical signal. One soybean plant was modified to emit the signal when there is pest damage, while the other soybean and the tomato plant continuously emit the signal. InnerPlant has a system to detect these signals using remote sensing devices from tractors, drones, airplanes, and satellites to aid crop management. APHIS states in its responses to the soybean requests that it determined that each soybean “is unlikely to pose an increased plant pest risk relative to its comparators.” APHIS made a similar response to the tomato request.
  • Ohalo Genetics modified a potato plant to produce an increased concentration of beta-carotene for altered nutritional value. APHIS states in its response that it “did not identify any plausible pathway by which your modified potato would pose an increased plant pest risk relative to comparator potato plants.”

Regulatory Status Review (RSR) requests from InnerPlant and Ohalo Genetics and APHIS’ response letters are available on the APHIS website. APHIS notes that its responses are based on information from the developers and its own:
•           Familiarity with plant varieties;
•           Knowledge of the traits; and
•           Understanding of the modifications.
Under 7 C.F.R. Part 340, developers may request an RSR when they believe a modified plant is not subject to regulation. APHIS reviews the modified plant and considers whether it might pose an increased plant pest risk compared to a nonregulated plant. If its review finds a plant is unlikely to pose an increased plant pest risk relative to the comparator plant, APHIS issues a response indicating the plant is not subject to the regulations.