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Trump Ag Dept. eases the way for test-tube plants to spread to nature

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Sarah Okeson
Sarah Okeson

A USDA plan to loosen regulation of genetically modified crops could benefit Florida billionaire Randal Kirk whose company hired Trump fundraiser and lobbyist Roy Bailey.

Michael Gregoire, then the acting administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, withdrew a proposed regulation to give more power to APHIS to evaluate whether genetically modified plants could become harmful weeds. This happened just 21 days after Bailey became a lobbyist for Intrexon, one of Kirk’s companies.

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The regulation that Trump’s Agriculture Department drafted instead would let developers determine whether their crops should be regulated based on comparing plant traits to traits that already aren’t regulated. It becomes effective Aug. 17

“This common-sense approach will ultimately give farmers more choices in the field and consumers more choices at the grocery store,” said Greg Ibach, the USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs.

 

Kirk, who lives just 7.1 miles from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago in a house an LLC bought for $25.5 million in 2011, is estimated to be worth $2.2 billion. Intrexon, where Kirk was the CEO, bought a company that developed apples that don’t brown. Intrexon, which recently was renamed Precigen, sold the biotech parts of the company to another Kirk company, Third Security LLC, after Intrexon lost $509.3 million in 2018.

Records show Intrexon paid Bailey’s lobbying firm, Bailey Strategic Advisors, about $180,000 from 2017 through 2019 to meet with officials from the White House, the president’s office, the vice president’s office and agencies including the USDA.

Bailey also has served as the finance chair of America First Action, a super PAC that raised more than $40 million to try to re-elect Trump.

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The Center for Food Safety called the regulation “arbitrary and capricious and contrary to sound science.”

Under the Plant Protection Act, signed by President Bill Clinton, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is supposed to regulate genetically engineered crops to reduce risk of spreading plant pests or harmful weeds. But Trump’s regulation would allow the developers of genetically engineered plants to decide if their companies should be exempted.

The center said assessing the risk of plant pests must account for unintended as well as intended effects of genetic modification. For instance, the genetic engineering of Arctic apples to resist browning involved silencing genes that generate enzymes to help protect against disease and insects in some plants.

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APHIS only regulates genetically engineered plants that were produced using genetic material derived from plant pests such as the common soil bacteria Agrobacterium.

 

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