Genetically engineered (GE) crops are subject to regulatory oversight to ensure their safety for humans and the environment. Their approval in the European Union (EU) starts with an application in a given Member State followed by a scientific risk assessment, and ends with a political decision‐making step (risk management). In the United States (US) approval begins with a scientific (field trial) step and ends with a ‘bureaucratic’ decision‐making step. We investigate trends for the time taken for these steps and the overall time taken for approving GE crops in the US and the EU. Our results show that from 1996–2015 the overall time trend for approval in the EU decreased and then flattened off, with an overall mean completion‐time of 1,763 days. In the US in 1998 there was a break in the trend of the overall approval time. Initially, from 1988 until 1997 the trend decreased with a mean approval time of 1,321 days; from 1998–2015, the trend almost stagnated with a mean approval time of 2,467 days.