By David Fikes, Vice President, Communications and Consumer/Community Affairs, Food Marketing Institute
Gene Editing

Among the saddest laments is any refrain that begins with the words, “if only.”

If only… I knew then what I know now.

If only… I had acted on the information I had.

If only … I had handled things differently.

But there is a means of avoiding the gripping regret of hindsight.

The lesson in avoiding regret starts with the bleak reminder of how often we receive nuggets of information that we should act on but because we’re busy or distracted or inundated we fail or choose not to do anything about them. The motivational lesson continues with remembering how often our neglect comes back to haunt us later only with a much larger price tag. Case in point, can anyone say, pink slime? Can anyone say, GMO?

We have an opportunity to avoid future regret. The issue of gene editing is surfacing in the media in many ways these days; some of it as good news in terms of the promise this new biotechnology holds for disease treatment, but some coverage comes as startling headlines about how this tool is getting used in human breeding. What is not yet garnering a lot of exposure are the significant implications this new biotech application has for food production.  And that is unfortunate. It may not be the silver bullet solving all the current problems faced by food producers, but it does contain the possible solutions to many production dilemmas. All that said, gene editing is a significant biotechnological break-through and the nuggets of its potential impact are being delivered to us.

Food industry leadership should be paying attention to these developments, studying them, understanding them, promoting them and setting up the guardrails where they are needed. This is a story with huge potential, and we can choose now what role we play in it. We can opt to say and do nothing now and risk paying a price for that silence later. Or we can do what we can to make sure that the potential good of gene editing does not get thwarted by either the lack of information or the purposeful distribution of misinformation.

Everyone with a finger on the consumer’s pulse, believes the use of gene editing in food production will be an issue of great interest to food shoppers. We must pay attention to the ways this technology is being presented now and preparing ourselves, our staffs and our shoppers for all this tool means. To ignore it now, will haunt us later.

To help you tackle this complex, yet promising topic, FMI has prepared a white paper entitled: Implications of Gene Editing for the Food Retail Industry. This paper is intended to introduce the reader to the evolving vocabulary of gene editing, provide a grounding in the science of this new tool without going into overwhelming detail and finally offer a glimpse into the emerging gene editing regulatory environment. Furthermore, in anticipation that this will be an area of great consumer interest, we are revamping our website pages on biotechnology to include additional gene editing resources and enhanced bioengineering materials for store staff, equipping them to field anticipated shopper inquiries.  

The nuggets are there for us to embrace the information and help shape this story. The best way to avoid the regret of hindsight is to take fruitful action now.