Changing the conversation around gene editing to drive sustainability
Ag industry insiders are taking a closer look at gene editing and how consumers view the practice. It has become a big issue, as producers focus on sustainability.
Advancing gene editing could be one tool to reduce chemical use in agriculture, but it faces the critical judgment of shoppers.
Jon Entine, Genetic Literacy Project founder, says that consumers may be ready to revisit the conversation.
According to Entine, “It very much is modeled on conventional agricultural development of moving traits around, and, I think, the public is younger, is more science-focused than it had been at any point in history. So, we really have to figure out ways to engage people and focus not on the means but on the ends.”
He also says that it is important for different sectors in agriculture to work together on sustainability.
“There’s obviously things that organic farming does well, soil prevention is one of them, and I think organic farming has really inspired a lot of changes in conventional farming. That said, there is a disparagement quality that has evolved in the organic industry where crop biotechnology of one form and now gene editing are somehow portrayed as unnatural,” he states.
Considering America’s large export market, European Union policy is also a diver for U.S. production, especially the EU’s farm-to-fork proposal.
“It’s a very organic and agro-based conception. It rejects GMOs and more recently rejects gene editing, which places it in a unique position outside the international community,” he explains. “They’re not considering the new cutting-edge techniques that we know can reduce diseases, we know that it can cut the use of pesticides, both synthetic and organic pesticides.”
Angela Bearth, a consumer behavior scientist for the Switzerland Department of Health, says that changing the narrative in Europe will not be easy.
“Here in Switzerland, we can afford to be difficult about our food. We have a choice, we can choose organic and we can choose this and that. We can pay attention to all of the ‘free from’ labels but that’s not the case everywhere,” she adds. “Here in Switzerland, food has almost become religious, something that can cure you, make you better. That’s why I think it’s probably quite difficult and I see it as more of a silo.”
Her research has found that consumers respond better to gene editing when they understand how the technology can benefit the environment or improve the quality of the product.