What if we could create pigs resistant to African Swine Fever? It could bring a whole new value to the swine industry across the globe. This could be done through the process of gene editing. This new technology has promising benefits, but where does it stand in terms of legal jurisdiction?
Many questions surround the topic of gene editing. Where can we go with it? Will it be accepted by the public? What will legal guidelines be? There are so many questions that surround the new technology. Perhaps the biggest question is, do the costs outweigh the benefits?
In the United States, it is full speed ahead toward gene editing technologies.
In August, the biotech company Recombinetics, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, received $34 million in new funding to speed up research and development of its gene-editing products. The company’s main focus is to improve livestock health and welfare and to grow human organs in pigs.
With the devastation ASF has brought in China, even more light is being shined on gene editing technology. The possibility of ASF resistant pigs could be possible with gene editing. Bruce Whitelaw, chair of genomics at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, is researching this idea.
Details of the ASF studies are top secret, but Whitelaw said the research is ongoing and the ASF virus challenge on the pigs “will happen later this year.” The world is waiting.
However, many wonder if this technology will be accepted by the public. Given the public’s notion towards genetically modified organisms, the sentiment towards gene editing is unknown.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we can move this technology forward without reliving the GMO experience,” says John Johnson, chief operating officer for the National Pork Board.
It is important to learn from the mistakes made with GMOs. There is a commitment across industries to be more transparent with this technology. Johnson said the transparency, dialogue, and conversation may lead us down a path to consumer acceptance more readily and with more confidence.
Successful Farming made 10 predictions for the future of gene editing. First, more products will be on the market for farmers. Several commercial partnerships are in the works for the sale of this technology. Currently, a gene-edited pig resistant to the PRRS virus is undergoing The FDA regulatory process. These pigs were developed at the University of Missouri and are being licensed by Genus.
Second, animal welfare will be improved. This technology gives us access to heat tolerant cattle, naturally castrated pigs and overall healthier livestock.
Next, livestock genetic quality and production could soar. Additionally, traits could be stacked. The goal is to put multiple edits in one animal.
Additionally, consumers will better understand the difference between gene editing and GMO transgenic technology.
Furthermore, regulatory agencies will continue their work in regulating the safety of gene-edited products. In addition, international acceptance to the technology will grow.
However, government funding may pose potential issues.
Recombinetics gets some funding from the USDA and Foundation of Food and Agriculture Research, which funded the company’s castration-free program, but the conflict between USDA and FDA regulations has hurt the industry, says Abrahamsen.
Additionally, biomedicine solutions for human health will boom due to gene-edited livestock. Recombinetics has two business units outside agriculture. One is centered around the use of pigs for human disease research. The second is focused on regenerative medicine.
Finally, farmers will continue to support the technology.
“Farmers are very pragmatic and business-minded,” says Van Eenennaam. “If a technology helps address a problem in a cost-effective way, they will adopt it.”
NPPC Encourages USDA to take Reins
The interest in gene editing is growing more and more each day. Even Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, established a bioscience unit. Their hope is to eventually grow pigs organs which can be transplanted into humans.
With the growing interest for the technology, legal jurisdiction will also become increasingly important. According to the National Pork Producers Council, the FDA’s jurisdiction of gene editing in livestock is slowing the pace of a technology that has promising animal health and environmental benefits.
In light of this, NPPC is renewing its call for the USDA to oversee gene editing for livestock.
FDA oversight treats any gene-edited animal as a living animal drug — and every farm raising them a drug manufacturing facility. That, says NPPC, undermines U.S. agricultural competitiveness globally, as other countries have what the group calls more progressive gene editing policies.
Jim Heimerl, NPPC President, said the FDA’s pace in developing a regulatory framework reinforces their idea the USDA is best equipped to oversee the technology. U.S. agriculture is one of our nation’s top exports.
“We can’t afford to cede leadership of gene editing to other countries,” Heimerl said.
Dan Kovich, NPPC director of science and technology, said gene editing offers dramatic animal health gains and reduced financial risk for farmers. Additionally, he said it could lead to less antibiotic use and reduced environmental impact.
Gene editing technology has endless possibilities. With the potential impact ASF could cause, it is even more important to shine a light on this technology. However, not everyone is as accepting of the product. Therefore, NPPC has urged the USDA to take the reins on the legal issues surrounding it. Additionally, it is important to learn from the mistakes of the GMO era and be more transparent with the public in terms of this technology. The possibilities gene editing has to offer could take us far, but will it get through the legal system?