Is gene editing the future of the produce industry?

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Is gene editing the future of the produce industry?

In a recent Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Webinar, three panelists spoke about gene editing and how it can be beneficial for the industry.

Moderated by Vonnie Estes, VP of Technology at PMA, the participants got started by tackling what is gene editing and how it will unfold for the future of the produce industry.

Dr. Haven Baker, Co-founder and Chief Business Officer at Pairwise

When asked about why so much emphasis is put on the needs of the consumer instead of the grower, Dr. Baker said that as of now, technology is expensive and working on diseases that might happen every other year has a high cost. Rather finding a problem that will continue to be a problem in five years is a much better place to start.

"Our mission is to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and we are trying to grow the category and the industry so the plan to start is with the consumer first."

Dr. Baker also said that he thinks there isn't a future for GMOs in the produce market.

"The markets are too small and with smaller crops, we will want to stay gene-edited as there is plenty of innovation to be done."

Gilad Gershon, CEO Tropic Biosciences

Presented with the information that Del Monte is not seeing any consumer resistance regarding its pink pineapple, Gershon explained that it is a good example that eventually companies will produce different products that they are proud of.

"Instead of being in a defensive position and feeling like we need to explain and defend our product, I think we can be very proud and say that this product was developed using gene editing and it allows it to be more nutritious or we used fewer chemicals or allowed for less water use during production."

Gershon responded to a question of if GMOs would be displaced by gene editing by saying: "GMOs will always be more expensive and something very catastrophic would need to happen in order for one to win out over the other. These two things can coexist."

Fayaz Khazi, Ph.D. CEO Elo Life Systems

Khazi spoke about various challenges that gene editing is facing within the industry at the moment. He shared that the disconnect between consumer needs and perceived consumer needs is where the bottleneck sits. The second area where innovation is getting stuck is technology barriers and the third is the need for harmonization of regulatory guidelines across the globe.

"What we are trying to address are these big hairy problems where there is a massive technology pull, and I think with these kinds of situations the question is always a binary: Would you rather go without bananas or live at the status quo?"

He said there are technological solutions for any problem, which were learned and put to use over the course of the pandemic.

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