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The first human has received a CRISPR gene-editing therapy. The patient in Germany has a blood disorder similar to sickle cell anemia and researchers are testing if the therapy will provide a cure. In addition, the University of Pennsylvania has begun a study of using CRISPR to treat cancer.
The possibility of gene editing being used in human medicine to treat deadly diseases is very encouraging. In fact, in a survey of 1,600 people, two-thirds think gene editing for human therapeutic purposes is acceptable.
Most of us know someone impacted by cancer, or other diseases such as leukemia, hemophilia or sickle cell anemia. The advances of gene editing to treat these illnesses are often a good way to open the conversation about gene editing being used in agriculture.
The Coalition for Responsible Gene Editing in Agriculture developed a communication guide that shares tips for engaging in the conversation about gene editing. Based on research from various organizations, the guide identified five effective communication approaches. One approach is to connect to gene editing solutions for human health.
Here are some ideas on how to start conversations:
“Gene editing shows great potential to positively impact human health – to cure or prevent disease – and gene editing can also help plants and animals resist disease. For example, gene editing can be used to prevent PRRS, a disease in young pigs that leads to suffering, and often death.”
“Recent news of gene editing being studied to treat cancer is so exciting. There are also many applications in agriculture, like turning on or off genes in plants to eliminate allergens, increase drought tolerance or improve nutrition.”
When engaging in dialogue with people about gene editing, keep in mind that people will likely have different opinions about using the technology in animals. By using shared values, you can have an open and honest discussion with them.
One of the keys to shared values is to embrace skepticism. You can embrace their skepticism without validating misinformation. Listen for the underlying value that is important to them. What’s the source of their concern? Is it environment, food safety, animal well-being, corporate influence?
“I appreciate your interest in animal well-being. I know making sure animals are cared for is important to farmers. I’d like to share my perspective on that issue.”
For more tips and suggestions about communicating about gene editing, download the full communication guide.