The U.S. has been a global leader in agricultural innovation for many years, but pork industry leaders are raising their voices with a clear message to “Keep America First in Agriculture,” as they highlight the need for a proper regulatory framework for gene editing in American livestock.
On Tuesday, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) launched this new campaign to broaden awareness and understanding of gene editing’s promise for livestock agriculture. 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," says Dr. Dan Kovich, NPPC's deputy director of science and 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."
Although countries like 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 land grab by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), says Andrew Bailey, NPPC lead counsel for science and technology.
Under FDA regulation, gene editing faces an impractical, lengthy and expensive approval process, threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs and nearly 6% of U.S. Gross Domestic Product. The FDA's regulation inaccurately classifies livestock as drugs and farms as drug-manufacturing facilities, which creates major challenges for the international trade of animals and animal products.
Kovich says the USDA 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 (APHIS), 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," says 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% production efficiency advantage over U.S. pork, Wolters says. He believes 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 is not asking for this technology to not be regulated,” Kovich says. “We want the right regulation that will allow us to take advantage of all of these benefits.”
African swine fever (ASF) continues to spread rapidly in the Eastern Hemisphere. China and the European Union are devoting resources to explore how gene editing may be able to make pigs resistant to disease, including the ASF virus, Wolters says.
“If this situation were to occur and they were successful in doing this, they could protect their domestic production,” Wolters says. “Meanwhile, we here in the U.S. are concerned daily about the U.S. pig population being decimated by ASF. It’s a large business risk for us today and its hampering investment as we know it. The concern we have as producers is that the current FDA regulation precludes the use of gene editing in the U.S. as a means of mitigating that risk.”
Alison Van Eenennaam, animal biotechnology and genomics Extension specialist at the University of California, Davis, says there is some research taking place in the U.S. looking at ways to create ASF-resistant pigs. However, it’s very difficult to do in the U.S. Once research is done on these animals, they are no longer eligible to go into the food supply.
“It becomes really expensive for our land-grant universities,” she says. “The meat, milk and eggs from research animals are part of the income stream to help research continue. When you take that way, it makes it cost-prohibitive to do this research in America.”
To learn more about "Keep America First in Agriculture," visit www.nppc.org/kafa.
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