Zachary Lippman, a plant biologist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, stood among 2 acres of his experimental crops, including some altered with a gene-editing technology called Crispr-Cas9, one of the most ambitious efforts yet to improve on what nature created.
He plucked a tomato, held it up and asked: “Will people eat it?”
That question is rippling through the food industry, where a battle for public opinion is under way even before the new gene-edited foods hit the market.
Proponents including scientists and agriculture-industry executives say gene editing in plants could transform agriculture and help feed a growing global population. Organic farmers and natural-food companies say it may pose risks to human health and permanently alter the environment by spreading beyond farms.
The agricultural industry is desperate to avoid a repeat of the acrimonious and costly battles it fought over the genetically modified crops currently on the market, even though authorities such as the Food and Drug Administration and World Health Organization have deemed them safe. Seed companies and farm groups have spent millions of dollars on campaigns promoting the benefits of biotech crops, while fighting labeling requirements and proposals to block their cultivation.
Professor Jennifer Kuzma, co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University, says she understands why companies want to stay away from the GMO label, but says referring to the new gene-editing techniques as breeding “seems a little disingenuous.”
“It is a biotech-improved crop,” she says. “Something along those lines would be more honest and is more likely not to come back and bite them in the future if consumers find out it is not really just breeding, it’s something more.”
Read the full article at The Wall Street Journal
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Innovative Genomics Institute, UC Berkeley, Jan 22, 2019 | Todd Kuiken Seminar: Governance of Emerging Biotechnologies in a World Without Borders. As synthetic biology, genome editing, gene drives, CRISPR, and the biotechnologies of tomorrow continue to emerge, international treaties are struggling to keep pace. While recognizing that biotechnologies are rapidly developing, with potential benefits and potential adverse impacts; how will treaties develop governance systems to both enable benefits while preventing or minimizing adverse effects? How do international treaties that address access and benefits sharing agreements based on “physical genetic material” incorporate (or not) digital sequence information? If engineered gene drives do not recognize a country’s or indigenous community’s sovereign lands; how does the international community address a situation where one country decides to move forward while another, or indigenous community, says no? And how does the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it, incorporate (or not), the tools of biotechnology? These are just some of the complicated questions international treaties have been debating over the last 10 years. Join us for a discussion as I examine these and other issues through my personal experiences inside these debates.