Yesterday, the National Pork Producers Council launched Keep America First in Agriculture, a new campaign to highlight the importance of establishing a proper regulatory framework for gene editing in American livestock.
Gene editing technology, which introduces useful genetic variation into food animal breeding programs, promises significant animal health benefits, including a natural immunity to disease and a reduction in the need for antibiotic use.
“Gene editing is a huge step forward for America’s farmers, as it offers a powerful new way to combat animal disease,” said Dr. Dan Kovich, NPPC’s director of Science & Technology. “With gene editing, livestock breeders can knock out specific genes that make animals vulnerable to viral infections. Healthier animals benefit both farmers and consumers,” he said.
While countries such as Canada, Brazil, and Argentina are moving quickly on this advancement to gain competitive advantage in the market, the U.S. is running the risk of falling far behind as a result of a regulatory seize by the Food and Drug Administration. Under FDA regulation, gene editing faces an impractical, lengthy, and expensive approval process, threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs and nearly six percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, the pork council said.
Additionally, the FDA’s regulation inaccurately classifies livestock as drugs and farms as drug-manufacturing facilities, creating significant challenges for the international trade in animals and animal products.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is the only agency prepared to effectively regulate this new technology. It already has a review process in place for genetic editing in plants under its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which can easily be adopted for livestock. The USDA also has the understanding and history of working directly with livestock and agriculture, unlike the FDA, which regulates packaged food, drugs, and medical devices.
“Allowing the FDA to regulate gene editing could drive elite animal breeding out of the U.S., long the international leader, and place U.S. producers at a potentially catastrophic competitive disadvantage with foreign competitors,” said Dr. Bradley Wolter, a leading pork producer and President of The Maschhoffs, a company that produces over 4 million market hogs per year. “International competitors that commercialize this technology will gain as much as a 15 percent production efficiency advantage over U.S. pork. It’s critical that America remains the global leader in agricultural innovation and gives regulatory oversight to the USDA, the agency that is most equipped to do so.”
NPPC began its “Keep America First in Agriculture” campaign by hosting a media teleconference with leading researchers, veterinarians, producers and industry experts, including Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam, Animal Biotechnology and Genomics Extension Specialist, University of California, Davis; Dr. Kovich; Andrew Bailey, NPPC Lead Counsel for Science and Technology; and Dr. Wolter.