Gene editing holds the potential to revolutionize agriculture, according to expert speakers at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2018 Annual Convention & IDEAg Trade Show.
Addressing farmer and rancher attendees in separate workshops, the University of Florida’s Dr. Kevin Folta and Dr. Alison Van Eenanaam with the University of California, Davis, coupled their enthusiasm for the practical benefits gene editing can bring with calls for supporters to share the science with consumers.
“Gene editing will revolutionize agriculture,” said Folta. “Farmers and scientists need to be at the forefront, driving the conversation on innovation and its benefits to consumers.” He cited non-browning fruits and vegetables and an end to citrus greening disease as production agriculture examples.
“We need to share the science and communicate the benefits of gene editing, starting with medical benefits that consumers can support and relate to,” he said. Cancer therapy for infants and elimination of food allergies developed through gene editing are just a couple of examples.
Van Eenanaam described gene editing as “the cherry on top of conventional animal breeding programs,” which has the potential to benefit farmers through applications such as disease resistance and hornless dairy cattle. She noted that the current regulatory environment is a major stumbling block to making applications of gene editing technology widely available. In fact, there are no animals produced with gene editing available in the U.S.
“Regulatory processes should be proportional to risk,” Van Eenanaam said. “The regulatory burden for animals produced with gene editing is disproportionately high, with unaccountable delays. There is an urgent need to ensure a science-based process focused on novel product risk for the use of gene editing in ag breeding programs,” she said.