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The BIO Agriculture & Environment Summit – Bio.News

The inaugural Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) Agriculture & Environment Summit, April 17-18, 2024, in Washington, D.C., brought together industry, regulators, and policymakers for a day of discussions about the outlook for the sector and regulation.

“What we are learning today is that there is a tremendous amount of potential opportunity in companies across the country,” said BIO’s Chief Policy Officer, John Murphy, in an exclusive interview with Bio.News after a panel on market opportunities for agricultural biotech.

However, accessing capital is a big issue for these companies. “It’s a very big challenge, because, as we’ve learned on the human health side and more and more on the agricultural side, it costs hundreds of millions of dollars and almost a decade to bring these new technologies to market,” said Murphy. “Right now, there’s a tremendous credit crunch and access to capital crunch that’s really inhibiting that growth.”

“Working with the government and working across the sector to try and unlock additional capital and get more investors into the space—not just specialized investors, but also general investors—will help drive value and bring innovation to market in the United States.” And key to this is ensuring that companies can have certainty in the regulatory process, and ensuring regulators understand the technologies and the “cost and time pressures” on R&D.

The bottom line: “creating pathways for market access are really going to deliver value in the long run.”

The outlook for plant biostimulant legislation

BIO has been closely watching plant biostimulant legislation at both the federal and state levels. As we’ve reported, biostimulants stimulate plant growth and development by improving water and nutrient absorption from the soil—and the market is projected to top $60 billion by the end of 2031.

The Association of American Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO) recently finalized a model for plant biostimulant legislation, and California, Minnesota, and Vermont have all introduced bills. Legislative activity is “only going to ramp up in 2025 and 2026,” said Gene Harrington, BIO’s Senior Director of State Government Affairs for Agriculture & Environment, during a discussion on state priorities with Ed Thomas, VP of Government Affairs at The Fertilizer Institute (TFI). “We anticipate many more states taking up this issue either legislatively or administratively in 2025 or 2026.”

“TFI and BIO and all of our partners are going to spend much of our time doing educational outreach to our state stakeholder partners, as well as state departments of agriculture,” noted Harrington.

TFI hopes plant biostimulants will “be regulated as plant nutrients,” said TFI’s Thomas. It’s important “to make sure that the products that are entering the market are safe, and that they can be regulated by the state nutrition programs.”

The panelists discussed broad support for biostimulants. “Our biggest challenge will probably be ensuring that regulators are comfortable with the consumer protection aspects of the AAPFCO model legislation. I think that might be the biggest hurdle,” added Harrington.

“We really do want regulation,” he continued. “Our companies are reputable companies, long-standing companies, and we invite sound regulation.”

TFI has started rolling out its biostimulant certification program, which is turning out to be “very productive,” said Thomas, which will help ensure agriculture retailers “have a better chance of getting the right product on the market.”

Expect more state legislative proposals on animal vaccines, said BIO’s Harrington

There is increasing polarization at the state level about animal vaccine legislation, driven in large part by state legislators who are part of state freedom caucuses, per Harrington.

He said much of the opposition to state animal vaccine legislation is due to “a general distrust of government” and “continued anger” about human COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

According to Harrington, there have been 34 animal vaccine bills proposed in 11 states. Many opposed mRNA vaccines, but they have since broadened. A 2023 Missouri bill “conflated gene therapy medical treatments with vaccines, with GE [genetically engineered] food, and required disclosure for all of those things,” Harrington said. In Idaho, legislation “would have actually criminalized the administering of an mRNA vaccine to a human or an animal.” While neither bill got very far, Harrington noted them to “underscore some of the fearmongering.”

“We don’t anticipate it slowing down anytime soon,” he said.

(FWIW, no mRNA animal vaccine has been commercialized, he added.)

It’s important to meet with people and “hear them out,” said Harrington, “and then explain the science.”

A notable win: New Mexico’s clean fuel standard

A notable legislative victory in 2024 was “getting a clean fuel standard bill through New Mexico,” said Harrington.

“The message it sends is tremendous. New Mexico is the second-largest oil-producing state in the country. So, if a state like that can transition to a clean fuel standard, you know, pretty much every state can,” he continued.