Agency to Share Info on Genetically Altered Pests

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) plans to change regulations that have kept information on genetically modified plant pests from state and tribal governments. Genetically modified plant pests may be used to help eradicate other pests, or their own populations, on crops.
     The change would make preventing the spread of plant pests easier, according to an APHIS proposed rule. It would allow APHIS to share certain confidential business information (CBI) in permit applications, notifications for importations, interstate movements, or releases into the environment of genetically engineered organisms that are or may be plant pests, with employees of state and tribal government agencies.
     Under the proposed rule, the government employees to receive CBI would have to have certain qualifications to receive it, including whether their state or tribe might become involved in a release of the pests, through natural disasters, accidents or other means. The qualifications include that the employees have the ability to safeguard the information, according to the proposed rule.
     The plan is to share any CBI in paper documents, and keep the information out of computers and other electronic devices.
     “For APHIS, a provision to share certain business information will benefit compliance activities, improve the efficiency of the permit and notification processes, and facilitate inspections by state regulators under the supervision of APHIS,” the agency said. “For the state and tribal governments, the proposed changes would enhance participation in the assessment process and encourage these entities to be more fully informed and involved. The proposed sharing of certain business information would be accomplished without compromising the protection afforded CBI under Freedom of Information Act’s Exemption 4,” APHIS said.
     Exemption No. 4, under the FOIA, covers two broad categories of information in federal agency records: (1) trade secret information and (2) information that is commercial or financial, obtained from a person and privileged or confidential,” APHIS explained.
     APHIS seeks public comments on the proposal, which are due by April 29.

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