Bogged Down in Regulation, Biotechnology Looks for a Corporate Savior

Jul 21, 2016

Most of the soybeans and corn grown in the United States are genetically modified. But some new varieties are not required to go through federal regulation.
Credit Grant Gerlock / NET News/Harvest Public Media

When it comes to agricultural biotechnology, Federal regulations are falling behind the times, says NET Nebraska. “There’s a lot of technology sitting on the shelf in Nebraska, and Illinois, and Missouri that’ll never see the light of day because of [Federal] regulations,” explains plant scientist Tom Clemente.

Clemente and his team in Lincoln are currently working on a type of sorghum engineered to make oil instead of sugar. The crop could be used to make fuel or chemicals. But a project like this oil-producing sorghum will need massive backing from a company like Monsanto or Syngenta, if it ever wants to see the light of day. These endeavors are simply too time-consuming and expensive for the public sector to undertake. But corporations won’t jump on board unless they see dollar signs. Which can leave scientists like Clemente between a rock and a hard place.

Things may be looking up, though. Last year the White House told the three federal agencies to update their regulatory systems. The feds would like to open a simpler path for new biotechnology. A proposal is expected this fall.