Future for Biotech and Biobased Products is Bright

May 12, 2023

By Ariel Wiegard, ASA Director of Government Affairs

As a lobbyist representing soy growers in Washington, D.C., one of my favorite facts to share with lawmakers is that there are over 1,000 products made in the U.S. from soybeans. No matter what their state or district is known for, there is usually something soy-based that resonates with them: Manufacturing? We have soy-based industrial lubricants. Cars? Seat foam and tires. Lumber? Plywood adhesive. Fashion? Shoes and cosmetics. Golf courses? Researchers are even developing soy-based golf balls! Not to mention the most obvious uses of soy as food, feed and biofuel feedstock.

Much of this diverse commercialization is made possible thanks to meaningful research investments by the national and state soy checkoffs, in partnership with universities and other research institutions. But it is also enabled by a favorable policy environment that celebrates and cultivates innovation and growth of the bioeconomy.

The bioeconomy is the portion of the economy based on products, services and processes derived from biological resources (e.g., plants) and driven by technological advances in the life sciences and biotechnology. Some analysts predict that as much as 60% of the physical inputs to the global economy could be produced biologically! Many view the bioeconomy as a solution to food security, energy independence and environmental sustainability.

Notably, last year the Biden administration kicked off a whole-of-government approach to bolster the bioeconomy in its Executive Order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation. ASA is excited to track and engage in implementation of the EO, which will collect essential data to measure and grow the bioeconomy; securely expand biomanufacturing capacity, including by boosting farm commodity production; require federal agencies to have a biobased procurement program for supplies and subcontracts to drive demand and create economies of scale; provide education and training to grow the bio-workforce; and modernize biotechnology regulations for clarity and efficiency.

This last point on regulatory modernization is especially key, as new genetic traits drive soy growers’ ability to meet the needs of users and developers of soy biobased products. Thankfully, we are seeing positive, pro-innovation steps in D.C. that will enable genetic innovation to enhance agriculture: EPA is finalizing a plant genetic engineering rule that was proposed during the Trump administration; USDA has proposed in its FY24 budget to fund regulation of animal biotechnology innovations that will provide disease resistance in flocks and herds; and FDA will finally be moving forward with proposed plant gene editing guidance that we’ve been waiting on for six years.

Of course, 2023 is also a farm bill reauthorization year, and ASA is working hard to strengthen the BioPreferred Program, which was created in the 2002 Farm Bill to spur economic development, create new jobs and provide new markets for farm commodities through a federal purchasing program and voluntary labeling initiative for biobased products. Numerous lawmakers are eager to help ensure BioPreferred fully supports market growth for our farmers’ favorite crop through the 2023 Farm Bill.

News coming out of Washington D.C. is often full of frustrating stories and hurdles to overcome, but in the case of biotech and biobased products, I am pleased to report the future is bright.

ASA currently chairs the Ag Biotech Alliance, a coalition of pro-innovation stakeholder groups that support policies enabling greater access to products of genetic improvement technologies in agriculture, and is also a founding member of the Ag Bioeconomy Coalition, which works to advance federal policy initiatives that foster growth toward a circular economy based on innovative products derived from renewable inputs.