McGinnis and her fellow researchers also pointed out that many of the lawsuits used in their study demonstrate that APHIS failed to differentiate between traditional GE crops, such as corn, soybeans, and cotton, and new GE crops presenting considerable regulatory challenges.

Take the genetic engineering of creeping bentgrass, for example. This weedy, wind-pollinated perennial raises unique gene flow concerns that aren’t seen in more traditional herbicide-tolerant crops. APHIS has failed to distinguish novel GE crops like this one and hold them to the rigorous evaluation standards required by environmental law, which has led to lawsuits that have grounded the GE crop regulatory process to a halt.

“APHIS needs to prioritize its resources. It needs to be spending more time regulating novel crops,” says McGinnis. “I’m certainly not advocating more regulation of traditional agronomic crops. Really, it’s about focusing on these novel crops that raise more issues.”

APHIS has recently announced plans to streamline their regulatory review process of GE crops, and plans on implementing several efficiency improvements. These include executing more defined deadlines, better resource management and earlier opportunity for public involvement.

“If APHIS can solicit public comment earlier in the regulatory process, it can more efficiently incorporate stakeholder concerns into either the environmental assessment or the environmental impact statement that it prepares in conjunction with its regulatory decision,” says McGinnis.

While APHIS says it has already begun to apply new, more efficient process steps and more defined deadlines, changes to public engagement have yet to be implemented. The agency’s complete set of revised procedures go into effect after the plans are published in the Federal Register.