Reducing government regulations no easy task: U.S. adviser

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — American farmers are thrilled that U.S. President Donald Trump is committed to reducing regulation, but a red tape expert says that is easier said than done.

“Good luck,” said John Goldberg, founder of Science Based Strategies and a former science adviser to the U.S. House of Representatives’ agriculture committee.

His first boss on Capitol Hill was former committee chair Pat Roberts, who promised regulatory relief, tax relief and trade expansion, three things he was unable to deliver.

Goldberg warned delegates attending Bayer’s AgVocacy Forum that it is exceedingly difficult to get rid of regulations.

“I’m trying to moderate expectations,” he said.

“These things are going to take a lot of time, and if we go in with a meat cleaver, we’re not going to get much done. Many of these regulations require surgical reform.”

However, he is hopeful that new regulations being developed to govern new crop breeding techniques such as gene editing will be far less costly and time-consuming than the current regulations governing genetically modified crops.

“I think there is tremendous potential in these new regulations,” said Goldberg.

He believes the reduced regulatory burden will allow smaller players such as universities to commercialize new varieties rather than just the big seed technology companies.

Wayne Parrott, plant breeder and professor at the University of Georgia, is frustrated with a system that regulates the process rather than the products.

“I like what the (Food and Drug Administration) does,” he said.

“The FDA says, ‘I don’t care how you make your food, it just better be safe.’ ”

Parrott said some regulations are ridiculous.

For example, disease-resistant plants are treated as a pesticide in the United States. They have to be registered every five years, seed production has to occur in a registered pesticide-producing facility and the seeds are labelled as pesticides.

He said science moves much quicker than the regulatory process.

For instance, RNAi technology has the potential to replace chemical agriculture. It has been around for 10 years, yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency still hasn’t decided what to do with it.

“In the meantime, nobody wants to invest in any RNAi products because they have no idea if they’ll ever be able to get them on the market,” said Parrott.

He said part of the problem is that groups such as Sierra Club, the Center for Food Safety and the Organic Consumers Association are good at lobbying politicians and regulators, while farmer groups and academics are more timid.

Goldberg said another problem is that the public trusts regulators, but the regulators don’t publicly stand behind their decisions and explain why the approved products are safe.

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