Gene editing technology continues its forward progress toward the advancement of agriculture. Recently, the genome editing company TargetGene entered into a licensing agreement with Monsanto for use of its proprietary “T·GEE” (Genome Editing Engine) to further agricultural innovation.
Tom Adams, Monsanto’s biotechnology lead, said, “TargetGene has uniquely positioned itself to develop precision-editing techniques that can improve a broad range of solutions that help growers around the world deliver better harvests.” He added that the “technology will help drive further precision and efficiency within the company’s robust plant breeding and biotechnology pipelines.”
Science Magazine gave the new gene editing technology the title of 2015 Breakthrough of the Year, and the MIT Technology Review recently listed it as one of its “ten innovations that could change the world.”
Indeed, the technology has the potential to increase agriculture’s productivity to enable us to meet the demands of a growing global population. It also can be used to improve animal welfare — the technology has been used to develop pigs resistant to a devastating disease and is being used to develop cattle without horns, thereby eliminating the controversy surrounding the practice of dehorning.
Products created through gene editing technology are considered distinct from GMOs, allowing manufacturers to avoid the stigma currently associated with them. But transparency will be critical for public acceptance.
Transparency is essential to earning trust. Consumers want all the details — the good, the bad and the ugly — so they can make their own decisions. Those involved in the food system need to take into consideration that simply reporting facts and science does not fulfill consumers’ definition of transparency. They don’t just want to know whether something can be done, but whether it should be done. Is it the right thing to do? Food producers must commit to communicating an ethical foundation for their work. Broad public support for technology will increasingly depend on the level of transparency and consumer engagement by those in the food system.