What’ll the next 10 years hold? (Editorial)
Within the next 10 years, half the seeds that farmers plant will be gene edited, according to a recent report from Rabobank.
Unlike genetically modified seeds, which have been in the market for several decades, gene editing is a relatively new technology, consisting of changing an organism’s existing genetic material, compared to genetic modification which introduces novel material, typically from other organisms.
Rabobank’s May 9 report says this solves one of the major criticisms of GMOs and brings fewer ethical concerns, as well as fewer regulatory constraints in some countries, though we’re not so sure.
According to the report, gene editing technology has the potential to benefit the entire food supply chain, from producers to consumers.
The United States has been the frontrunner in gene editing applications, as it was with genetically modified seeds.
According to the USDA, 169 applications for gene-edited products were submitted in the United States from 2011 to 2020.
These applications covered plants for human consumption, feed, industrial uses, and some microorganisms for industry. Some of these applications could be commercialized soon. According to the report, drivers for gene edited traits in crops include enhanced crop productivity, drought tolerance, improved crop quality, reduced environmental impact and increased sustainability.
“It can increase crop productivity without expanding farmland area, reduce food waste, reduce harmful substances in food, and reduce pesticide use, among other things,” Chia-Kai-Kang, farm inputs analyst for Rababank and one of the report’s authors, said..
Factors that will determine if a gene-edited crop can achieve a high adoption rate include product performance, such as quality, yield and consistency in performance; and possible long-term risks, such as allergic and toxic reactions. It also includes disruption to trade flows due to export bans on gene-edited crops; the marketing power, selling strategy and distribution network of the input company; and access to technology.
These types of traits “can benefit the entire food supply chain, directly impacting farmers and farm input companies, but also the grain and oilseed industry and consumers,” Kang said.
Unfortunately, with all the good these traits could do for food production, farm viability and public health, rest assured there will be some level of social challenge.
We expect protests, opposition campaigns and much of the same vitriol that has continued since the first Roundup Ready seed went in the ground.
In the next 10 years, farmers and the industry will have to seize opportunities to show the public — generally far removed from agriculture — why these advances in technology are needed and how it will help them live a better life.