‘A really simple tool’ for food security

Members of Congress and experts agree: gene editing can ensure we have a secure, resilient food system in the face of climate change. Here’s what they said during yesterday’s House Agriculture Committee hearing on agricultural biotechnology.

For starters, Mexico’s dramatic policy shift to delay biotech approvals for more than three years and their decree to phase out imports of ag biotech are a “contravention of the bulk of scientific evidence and it’s in violation of USMCA,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD), Ranking Member of the Livestock & Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee—catch up on the issue here.

“Mexico is a key market for our pork producers,” said BIO Board member Elena Rice, Chief Scientific Officer of Genus PLC, which is using gene editing to produce pigs resistant to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

“If our producers cannot import to Mexico,” it will “close the door” to these products, she continued. Mexican pork producers are interested in the product, but the uncertainty “creates a significant barrier.”

Read: USTR must take action on Mexico’s treatment of ag biotech, says BIO

PRRS-resistant pigs are “just one example of what we can do to help promote disease resistance,” added Rep. Jim Baird (R-IN), noting that PRRS can “devastate an entire herd of 2,000 pigs in just two months.” (Rep. Baird recently led a letter to the administration on the importance of getting animal biotech to the market—read it here.)

“Gene editing gives us a really simple tool,” continued Rice. “We’re deleting one really small portion of the gene, and as a result of that, the virus cannot enter the body of the pigs,” with “no other differences except that those pigs cannot get sick from PRRS.”

But the regulatory approval process is “really long”—and while PRRS continues to devastate pigs across the hemisphere, we’re still several years away from these pigs getting to market.

What they’re saying: “Integrating new technologies into agriculture is one way that we can prepare for change. I commend our biotechnology researchers and advocates who are creating ways for farmers and ranchers to build more sustainable and productive agricultural systems,” said Committee Chair Jim Costa (D-CA).

What they’re saying, continued: “The security and resiliency of our food system is paramount, and continued investments in research and biotechnology will go a long way in maintaining our spot as the world leader in food production,” said Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Chair of the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research.

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