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Agriculture is changing, regulations need to keep pace
By Dr. Margaret Zeigler, Executive Director, Global Harvest Initiative
This blog also appears in TheHill.com, where Dr. Zeigler is a regular contributor. For more on regulatory systems and how they can support agricultural productivity and innovation, see the Embrace Science-based and Information Technology section of the 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®).
Our regulatory systems must support the development of science-based innovation to improve productivity and protect the environment and animal welfare. Regulations must allow farmers and agricultural businesses to thrive and become more resilient to climate and economic shocks, while ensuring a sufficient supply of nutritious, safe and affordable food.
Currently farmers in the US and around the world are struggling to make ends meet. In times like these, it is especially important that government regulatory systems help foster productivity and innovation while avoiding unnecessary costs, delays and burdens to the agriculture sector.
The Trump administration has placed a special focus on removing regulatory burdens that impede business, and shortly after taking office, President Trump signed an executive action aimed at reducing red tape. It directs each federal agency to set up a task force to identify costly regulations that could be scaled back, with a “2 for 1” executive order revoking two rules for every new regulatory rule issued.
But regulatory systems cannot simply be improved by a reduction in their number. They must be improved and streamlined to deal with 21st century challenges and to keep pace with rapidly changing innovations in science and technology while helping consumers have confidence in their food supply.
Regulatory systems are being called upon to do even more today in a global supply chain for food and agriculture. Consumers seek detailed information about production methods, nutritional content, labor practices and sustainability of local, national and international food and agriculture systems. Transparency and traceability are growing in importance for earning consumer trust, while affordability and accessibility remain a paramount concern for most customers.
A smart, successful regulatory system establishes predictable, clear, science-based operating conditions for farmers and ranchers — particularly regarding seeds, crop protection and animal health. It also sets the bar for mechanization companies, insurance and finance firms, and food processing and retail industries, so that the overall agriculture sector can deliver healthy food and agriculture products for people, while protecting the environment.
Smart regulatory systems should have a sound legal and empirical basis, minimize costs and market distortions and promote innovation through intellectual property protection and market incentives. They must be clear and practical for users and be compatible with domestic and international trade principles.
The current regulatory system is not keeping pace. Now technologies, such as gene-editing, don’t fit within the current regulatory framework. Calls to unshackle innovation in agricultural biotechnology and to establish science-based regulatory systems for gene edited-crops are examples of how regulatory systems must become smarter in today’s highly innovative agricultural environment.
To discuss many of the issues impacted by proposed regulatory changes, representatives from the agriculture sector, including farmers and USDA officials, will gather May 24 at the Farm Foundation Forum at the National Press Club. Building smart regulatory systems will contribute to productivity, sustainability and innovation in agriculture and food systems when all the participants — government, industry, producers, scientists and consumers — responsibly engage in dialogue and action together.
Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) is a private-sector policy voice for productivity growth throughout the agricultural value chain. Our member companies are DuPont, Elanco, Farmland Partners Inc., John Deere, Monsanto, and The Mosaic Company. GHI’s consultative partners include universities, NGOs, conservation organizations and experts in agricultural development and nutrition.