Emerging gene editing technologies: Three key insights

Much has been written and discussed in the media regarding consumer attitudes toward technologies adopted across the food system. Those of us who follow and nurture innovation across the sciences, including agriculture, are often frustrated and baffled by the public’s fear over GMO, for example. A recent study from the Pew Research Center (January 2015) found that while 88% scientists within the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) consider genetically modified foods to be generally safe, only 37% of the general public say they believe it is safe to consume GMO containing food. At Larta Institute, we are committed to initiating and facilitating disruptive dialogues around the challenges that emerging technologies face, including public acceptance. In 2015, our anchor ag event, the Ag Innovation Showcase, began an exploration on the mismanaged relationship with the public over GMO. A special session, Transparency Without Prejudice: Bridging the GMO Divide, kicked off a candid discussion of the challenges of adopting technology aimed at gene editing, for better and greater food production.

Over the last year, we built on the discussion on our Ag Innovation Showcase blog and will continue the discussion at an upcoming GAIN forum (Global Ag Innovation Network) November 16  – Ag Gene Editing: Ag-ony or X-tasy?

More recently, in September at our Ag Innovation Showcase, we broadened and continued that conversation to explore emerging gene editing technologies with the panel: Gene editing - new frontiers, new challenges. The panel represented four unique perspectives in ag – Big Ag, Innovative early-stage company, public perception, regulation. Together, our speakers highlighted several key insights about how to move forward the “public license” needed for successful and ethical adoption and applications of emerging gene editing technology for food production innovation:

Three key insights from this year’s gene editing panel:

  1. New gene editing technologies are likely to be easier and cheaper to adopt, giving rise to opportunities from new, smaller players in agriculture. This opens up many more stories about the benefits of such technologies for more than the big commodity crops grown at industrial scale and efficiency. This “democratization” of the technology has the potential to create greater support among consumers.
  1. Consumers approach food with a high degree of emotion, which determine their purchase decisions. Consumers are not won with more facts but with emotional connections. From consumer research and PR campaigns from big ag to communities supporting STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) education, we all have a role to play. Conversations within the communities where we live and work, go a long way.
  1. While new gene editing technologies don’t fall within the current regulatory framework, it would be a mistake to expect to “slip under the radar” of public perception. Far better to engage now with the public with transparency to create familiarity with the opportunities that precision gene editing offers and to build trust that will enable applications in food and agriculture.