The Promise of Gene-editing in Food Production

By Leslie G. Sarasin, President and CEO, Food Marketing Institute

What an odd juxtaposition it is that regarding their medicine, consumers want the very best science applied and they support all technological advances to keep production costs down, but when it comes to food, suddenly the skepticism switch is flipped on and they become not only skittish about science but downright distrusting of new technology.

Varying perspectives regarding the new biotechnology tool, gene editing, are surfacing in the media; some stories focus on its benefits, drawing attention to its promise for disease treatment.  Other coverage paints a scary picture with startling headlines about the potential unforeseen consequences of its use, for example, in human breeding.  What has not yet garnered much exposure are the significant positive implications this new biotech application has for food production, and that is unfortunate.  While It may not be the silver bullet to solve all the current problems faced by food producers, gene editing does hold possible solutions to many production dilemmas in both the plant and animal world.

Each of us with a finger on the consumer’s pulse, believes the use of gene editing in food production will be an issue of great interest to food shoppers.  Opponents of this technology will likely seek to thwart its development by intentionally distributing misinformation or half-information that fans the flame of consumer skepticism.

To help tackle this complex yet promising topic, FMI believes:

  • The government agencies responsible for ensuring the safety of our nation’s food and pharmaceutical supply should strive to promote the value of gene editing technology, highlighting the testing and scientific review it has received;
  • A standard biotechnology vocabulary should be established so the public can understand various bioengineering techniques, including gene editing; and
  • A broad range of partners – including all sectors of the food industry, the government and scientific, medical, environmental and consumer advocacy communities – should collaborate on a public facing educational campaign to provide consumers with ready access to information about gene editing.

Collectively, we should provide consumers with the trusted information they seek regarding this exciting new technology and the implications it has for food production.