The Association of Public & Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) announced the creation of a Gene Editing Task Force. Recognizing the potential for gene editing to increase food security and safety, the 11-person panel is comprised of scientists and industry leaders who will map out recommendations for regulating this emerging genomic technology in animal agriculture with appropriate safeguards and procedures.
The need for a task force was born out of a September 2019 symposium, “Gene Editing in Livestock: Looking to the Future,” organized by the two associations. During that event, 23 of the nation’s leading experts from academia, government, industry and professional groups gathered to examine a series of questions ranging from the nature and safety of this promising technology to its ethical implications.
Symposium participants concluded that work with animal and plant genomes has vast potential for limiting disease and increasing productivity, but agreed that appropriate regulatory processes should be thoroughly considered and structured. Currently, the Food & Drug Administration regulates genetic work on food animals as an “animal drug,” and the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates these technologies with crops.
“This is a very promising area of biotechnology that has the potential to unleash enormous progress in terms of food production and security,” said Dr. Noelle Cockett, president of Utah State University and a renowned geneticist who is leading the task force. “Last fall’s symposium featured a series of presentations and discussions, which identified and explored important questions and implications related to this emerging technology. These need to be thoughtfully considered and transformed into policy and regulatory recommendations. That’s the goal of this task force.”
To develop a task force, AAVMC and APLU established a steering committee that put out a call for nominations. The steering committee selected six people from academia to serve on the task force: Dr. Jon Oatley of Washington State University, Dr. Bhanu Telugu of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Londa Nwadike of the University of Missouri, Dr. Jonathan Beever of the University of Tennessee, Dr. Rex Dunham of Auburn University and Dr. James Murray of the University of California-Davis.
The task force will also include Dr. Andrew Rowan with Wellbeing International, Dr. Kathy Simmons with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn., Clint Nesbitt with the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) and a yet-unnamed liaison to the Center for Food Integrity. The task force will be chaired by Cockett.
“The potential for gene editing to dramatically boost food security globally and reduce the burden on natural resources is enormous, but it must be done carefully and ethically,” APLU president Peter McPherson said. “We are very pleased to partner with AAVMC on this task force, which is bringing together some of the foremost leaders in the world to help recommend a path for government to take to regulate this field in a way that protects all involved while allowing the science to flourish.”
“Animal biotechnology has enormous potential to address animal health and welfare and numerous agricultural, environmental, humanitarian and public health challenges, including helping to prevent and respond to zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19,” said Nesbitt of BIO.
“New biotech methods like gene editing can make animals resistant to disease and enhance animal well-being, but an optimal regulatory system for animal biotechnology needs to address safety and oversight while paving the way for innovation to flourish,” Nesbitt added.
In a letter sent to leaders in Congress last week, BIO joined with 27 members of the Council of State Bioscience Associations calling for legislative action to streamline the regulatory oversight of animal biotechnology.
The task force is expected to conduct its first virtual meeting in June 2020, and in-person meetings will be held following the relaxation of pandemic-induced social distancing protocols.
APLU and the AAVMC decided to take action in this area following inquiries from members of Congress to FDA acting commissioner Norman E. Sharpless concerning current regulatory processes. That provided the impetus for AAVMC and APLU to organize the fall 2019 symposium for scientists and other scholars.
“The symposium we presented last fall in partnership with APLU was a big step forward in a very important process,” AAVMC chief executive officer Dr. Andrew T. Maccabe said. “We’re very grateful to the group of respected experts who have agreed to help us move this project forward. We’re also pleased to have the opportunity to collaborate with APLU on a large-scale program that has such vast implications for agricultural productivity and disease prevention.”
Discussions and presentations held during the September 2019 conference explored different facets of the gene editing issue from a public policy perspective. Conference sessions included science and research, industry perspective, bioethics, public policy and regulation and communication and public engagement.
APLU and the AAVMC previously teamed up on a multiyear effort designed to address the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance. That led to the establishment of the National Institute of Antimicrobial Resistance Research & Education, which is based at Iowa State University and operates in collaboration with a consortium of partner universities and medical institutions.
To examine the program and learn more about the people who participated, please click here.