Numerous other consumer benefits expected
Over the past three years, my research team has been surveying an international panel of experts about genome editing. This panel of experts consists of over 700 experts from around the world which include plant breeders, regulators and corporate regulatory officials. Since we began, we have carried out 10 surveys, in which 100-150 panelists respond to each survey. Recently, our January to April 2018 survey results have been published in the journal Transgenic Research. The focus of today’s blog is on the key findings of this research on the benefits of genome edited crops based on experts’ opinions.
In the field
Genome editing is a newer plant breeding technologies starting to see varieties commercialized in Canada and the USA. One breeding technology known as CRISPR has been used to create a new rice variety capable of 25-30% higher yields than conventional rice and has been used to develop a new faster-growing variety of fish. The advantage of genome editing is not only agronomic benefits but also that breeders are able to make targeted, site-specific gene modifications. This is also believed to reduce the time to develop new crop varieties. Experts also indicated that the top agronomic benefits from genome edited varieties over conventional varieties include improved disease resistance, increased drought tolerance and higher yields. All of these traits are important when accounting for the changing needs created from climate changes impacts on crop production. Many of the surveyed experts also believe that new crop varieties from genome editing are more nutritious and are better able to respond to climate change will be possible.
On your plate
When it comes to consumer benefits, experts identified three traits: improved nutrition, increased food processing qualities and the ability to extend the shelf-life of food products. All of these could assist in reducing food waste in the future. Traits such as these hold vast potential for improving our daily diets across all social and economic parts of society. Low-income households stand to benefit substantially through foods with higher nutritional content. Poor childhood nutrition has been linked to increases in some diseases later in life. When food is able to pack more nutrition per bite and last longer on your pantry shelf, consumers should find themselves wasting less food. Reducing food waste will also assist in keeping food prices lower as retail chains factor in the cost of food that will be thrown out, into the price we all pay to purchase our food.
It is promising to see that our panel of experts see numerous benefits from genome editing and that the gains will not be felt by just the producers or the technology developers. The ability to increase food security through higher yields and the nutritional composition of food products offers an exciting future for plant breeding and food consumption. Genome editing technologies offer significant benefits to humanity and this opportunity should not be squandered through the political actions of those opposed to modern agriculture.