Regulatory war on gene editing could leave American agriculture in the dust


by Bradley Wolter, Opinion, Washington Examiner

October 02, 2019


Wolter is president of The Maschhoffs and an active member of the National Pork Producers Council.


American agriculture is facing significant challenges, an overwhelming share of which are being shouldered by the pork industry.


From trade wars to animal disease epidemics spreading throughout Asia and Europe, our producers across the country are facing challenges on a range of issues. While the press has covered trade disputes and African swine fever extensively, there is another story no less critical to the future of American pork production: the regulation of gene-editing technology.


Gene-editing technology allows for precise, small changes to specific genes in order to produce better, healthier pigs, reduce the need for antibiotics, increase production efficiency, and lower environmental impact.


For example, gene editing may allow us to finally stamp out Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, a highly contagious disease that costs the pork industry more than $1 billion dollars annually. Gene-editing technology would increase herd efficiency by 15% and make the United States an even stronger global competitor. It would be a complete game changer for American hog farmers.


Gene editing also has the potential to prevent African swine fever — a deadly animal disease affecting only pigs and with no human health or food safety risks. Thanks to vigilant oversight by government border security and protection efforts by our farmers, this disease has not been found in the U.S., but we are on high alert. An outbreak of African swine fever in the U.S. would immediately shut off the export markets on which we are so dependent. It would be devastating to the rural economy.


These two diseases alone make gene-editing technology a crucial tool for pork producers. Countries such as Canada, Argentina, and Brazil have recognized the potential of this technology and are already moving ahead with approval processes. The European Union and China are also devoting resources to explore the promise of gene editing.


Where is America as our competitors embrace this technology and bound forward with implementation, quickly gaining a competitive advantage? Unfortunately, we’re stalled by an impractical, lengthy, and expensive approval process put in place by the Food and Drug Administration, tasked with regulating drugs and processed foods, with little to no experience with farm animals.


The repercussions of a poor regulatory framework could be dire. If pork producers cannot access this technology — and the current framework effectively ensures that they cannot — then we will lose our place as global leaders. Hundreds of thousands of American jobs could be at risk, to say nothing of the nearly 6% of GDP that comes from the livestock industry.


Proper regulation of gene editing is the key to unlocking its promise for American agriculture...