Frequently Asked Questions about gene editing
What is gene editing?
Gene editing makes precise, intentional and beneficial changes in the genetic material of plants and animals used in food production, which can improve their health and sustainability. This often mirrors changes that could occur in nature or through traditional breeding.
What are the benefits of gene editing?
Gene editing has tremendous potential to benefit society through improvements in food production and solutions to an array of challenges. Gene editing can be used to help improve the health and well-being of plants and animals. Ultimately, use of gene editing can help farmers keep pace with the growing demand for more and better food, while using less water and land, and fewer nutrients and other resources. In addition, gene editing is being researched for human health improvements.
How is gene editing currently being used in food and agriculture?
A variety of gene editing applications are being researched and developed as potential solutions to challenges in agriculture. Gene editing can help reduce food waste, by producing apples, mushrooms and potatoes that do not brown. Other developments are underway to improve health and well-being, as in plants, pigs and cattle that are resistant to common diseases and cattle that do not grow horns (which would eliminate the need for farmers to dehorn cattle, a practice sometimes used to prevent risk to animal caretakers, other animals and the animals themselves). Gene editing is also being explored for solutions to nutritional challenges, such as wheat that does not contain gluten, peanuts that don’t include allergens or soybeans with a healthier mix of fatty acids.
What is CRISPR?
What are the ethical considerations and potential risks of gene editing?
With any new technology, it is important to assure it is used responsibly. One element in responsible gene editing is to evaluate any potential negative consequences and incorporate those findings in the development process. Among the ethical considerations for gene editing is the ability of innovations to help grow more and better food while reducing the use of natural resources, the opportunity to reduce or eliminate disease in plants and animals, and the potential for other beneficial changes that enhance sustainability. It is important for developers of gene editing to demonstrate their commitment to the responsible use of the technology and be willing to engage in a public dialogue about the use of the technology.
Is gene editing regulated by the U.S. government?
The U.S. government is in the process of determining the appropriate regulatory approach. Multiple federal agencies have been engaged in the discussion and asserted jurisdictional oversight, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In March 2018, the USDA issued a statement providing clarification on the oversight of plants produced through gene editing. The FDA has invited the public to weigh in on animal biotechnology and is considering how to proceed.
Many question why regulation is necessary being that gene editing applications mirror changes that could happen in nature or through traditional breeding.
Is gene editing being embraced by other countries?
Countries around the world are engaging in dialogue about gene editing technologies, the appropriate regulatory oversight, and the potential for the technologies to help address plant and animal health challenges, as well as food nutrition challenges. Many countries do not differentiate between plants and animals when it comes to the use of this technology, and several are in the process of considering varying levels of regulation.
Does gene editing create GMOs? What’s the difference between GMOs and gene editing?
In general, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are created using transgenic technology that introduces DNA from a different organism. The transgenic process has been used in several crops and one food animal that are commercially available.
In contrast, gene editing often uses a cisgenic process, which involves precise changes to an organism’s own genetic code without introducing DNA from another organism. This is like the find-replace function in a word processor, when a simple, intentional change of a “d” to “e” would change “wind” to “wine.”
What is the Coalition for Responsible Gene Editing in Agriculture?
The Coalition for Responsible Gene Editing in Agriculture was formed by The Center for Food Integrity to strive for global understanding and acceptance of gene editing technology in agriculture and food. Coalition participants share the goal to earn trust in gene editing to provide consumers safe, nutritious and affordable food produced in sustainable systems.
Who are the members of the Coalition and how did they become involved?
Members of the coalition are leaders in the fields of science, agriculture and food production. They became involved because they believe that gene editing has tremendous potential to solve food production challenges, and they aspire to work together to engage with stakeholders about responsible use of this technology. View the full list of Coalition Leaders here.
Why did The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) form the Coalition? What is CFI’s role?
The Center for Food Integrity facilitates the Coalition for Responsible Use of Gene Editing in Agriculture, which was formed in 2016. Many consumers, and other stakeholders, are unfamiliar with gene editing – both the science behind it and the promise ahead. The Coalition has a mission to cultivate support for responsible used of gene editing in agriculture, and Coalition participants believe it is important to engage stakeholders in that process.
What are the Principles and Guidelines for Responsible Use of Gene Editing? Why are they needed?
The principles and guidelines are outlined here. Agriculture and food system leaders feel it is imperative to openly and transparently communicate with stakeholders about how gene editing technology is being used in a responsible manner as more products begin to enter the marketplace. In an evolving regulatory environment, the Principles and Guidelines provide a mechanism for communicating a commitment to use the technology in a trust-worthy manner.
How can a person, company or organization become involved in the coalition?
Contact Neil Robertson at CFI for more information.
How can those interested stay updated on coalition activities and gene editing technology, in general?
To join the Coalition e-mail list and receive updates, sign up here. For more on gene editing and many other food production developments, visit Best Food Facts and sign up for the Best Food Facts newsletter. For media inquiries, contact Jana McGuire.