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. However, the current regulatory scheme in the U.S. stands in the way of innovation and could put the U.S. livestock industry at a competitive disadvantage.
On Tuesday, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) launched "Keep American First in Agriculture," a new campaign to highlight the importance of establishing a proper regulatory framework for gene editing in U.S. livestock.
"Gene editing is a huge step forward for America's farmers, as it offers a powerful new way to combat animal disease," NPPC deputy director of science and technology Dr. Dan Kovich said. "With gene editing, livestock breeders can knock out specific genes that make animals vulnerable to viral infections. Healthier animals benefit both farmers and consumers."
While countries like Canada, Brazil and Argentina are moving quickly on this advancement to gain competitive advantage in the market, the U.S. runs the risk of falling far behind due to current guidance determined by the Food & Drug Administration. 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.
Additionally, FDA's regulation inaccurately classifies livestock as drugs and farms as drug manufacturing facilities, creating significant challenges for international trade in animals and animal products.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is the only agency prepared to effectively regulate this new technology, NPPC said. It already has a review process in place for genetic editing in plants under its Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that 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,” NPPC said in a statement.
"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 more than 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. 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," Wolter added.