Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants (BRAG) Program
The purpose of the Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants (BRAG) program is to support the generation of new information that will assist Federal regulatory agencies in making science-based decisions about the effects of introducing into the environment genetically engineered organisms (GE), including plants, microorganisms (including fungi, bacteria, and viruses), arthropods, fish, birds, mammals and other animals excluding humans. Investigations of effects on both managed and natural environments are relevant. The BRAG program accomplishes its purpose by providing Federal regulatory agencies with scientific information relevant to regulatory issues.
The USDA Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants (BRAG) program was established in 1992 in response to authority provided in Section 1668 of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (7 U.S.C. 5921). From 1992 until 2002, the BRAG program supported risk assessment research regarding the effects of introducing genetically engineered organisms into the environment. In 2002, Section 7210 of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (7 U.S.C. 7901) amended the authority of the BRAG program to include “research designed to identify and develop appropriate management practices to minimize physical and biological risks associated with genetically engineered animals, plants, and microorganisms.” Currently, the BRAG program supports risk assessment and risk management research regarding the introduction of genetically engineered animals, plants, or microorganisms into the environment. The BRAG program also supports conferences that bring together scientists, regulators, and other stakeholders to review the science-based data relevant to science-based risk assessment or risk management of genetically engineered organisms released into the environment. BRAG is co-administered by NIFA and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). BRAG is also jointly funded by ARS, NIFA, and the Forest Service. These agencies contribute funds to the USDA Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants program by withholding at least 2 percent from outlays for research on biotechnology within their agencies.
Risk assessment research is defined as the science-based evaluation and interpretation of factual information in which a given hazard, if any, is identified, and the consequences associated with the hazard are explored. Research funded through this program will be relevant to risk assessment and the regulatory process. When evaluating transgenic organisms, Federal regulators must answer the following four general questions:
- Is there a hazard (potential hazard identification)?
- How likely is the hazard to occur (quantifying the probability of occurrence)?
- What is the severity and extent of the hazard if it occurs (quantifying the effects)?
- Is there an effect above and beyond what might occur with an organism that has similar traits, but was developed using other technologies?
Although project directors are not required to perform actual risk assessments as part of the research they propose, they should design studies that will provide information useful to regulators for making science-based decisions in their assessments of genetically engineered organisms. Accordingly, applicants are encouraged to address the following questions in their applications:
- What is the relevance of the proposed research to the evaluation of transgenic organisms?
- What information will be provided by this research to help regulators adequately assess transgenic organisms?
- How does this research model approximate studies necessary to identify and/or characterize hazards associated with introducing genetically engineered organisms into the environment?
Risk management research is defined to include either:
- Research aimed primarily at reducing effects of specific biotechnology-derived agents
- A policy and decision-making process that uses risk assessment data in deciding how to avoid or mitigate the consequences identified in a risk assessment
The BRAG program will not support risk assessment or risk management research related to food safety, human or animal health, social or economic issues, methods for seed storage, clinical trials, commercial product development, product marketing strategies, or marketing or trade issues associated with genetically engineered organisms.
The BRAG program is supported by a two percent withholding on expenditures for biotechnology research within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. NIFA and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture jointly administer the BRAG program.
In FY 2017, a total of 42 proposals were submitted to the BRAG program requesting a total of $19,129,634. Awards totaling $5,395,838 were made to the 11 research and 2 conference proposals that were highly ranked. The success rate (in terms of number of research proposals funded compared to the total number of research proposals submitted) was approximately 28%. The average research award was $485,985 (total costs) for approximately 36 months.
In FY 2016, a total of 44 proposals were submitted to the BRAG program requesting a total of $23,790,339. Awards totaling $4,389,763 were made to the 9 research and 1 conference proposals that were highly ranked. The success rate (in terms of number of research proposals funded compared to the total number of research proposals submitted) was approximately 21%. The average research award was $486,385 (total costs) for approximately 36 months.
FY 2015, a total of 34 proposals were submitted to the BRAG program requesting a total of $15,478,425. Awards totaling $3,928,994 were made to the 7 research and 3 conference proposals that were highly ranked. The success rate (in terms of number of research proposals funded compared to the total number of research proposals submitted) was approximately 23%. The average research award was $475,696 (total costs) for approximately 36 months.
- USDA Agricultural Research Service, Office of National Programs (ONP)
- U.S. Forest Service
- USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service - Biotechnology Regulatory Service (APHIS-BRS)
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP)
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM)
- 2015 USDA Annual BRAG Project Directors Meeting
- 2016 USDA Annual BRAG Project Directors Meeting
- 2017 USDA Annual BRAG Project Directors Meeting
Program Specific Resources
- 2015 BRAG PD Meeting Booklet (1.25 MB)
- 2016 BRAG PD Meeting Booklet (334.08 KB)
- 2017 BRAG PD Meeting Booklet.pdf (413.16 KB)
- Peer Review Process for Competitive Grant Applications
- Use of Drone Technology to Study Pollen Flow in Camelina
- National Academies of Sciences Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects (2016) Report
- BRAG Project Director Speaks at National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (NC-FAR) Science on the HIll Seminar