Food manufacturing technology has been evolving at a rapid speed over the past few years with technologies such as genome editing being able to improve the quality of certain agronomically-important crops. These advanced plant breeding technologies have a promising future in American agriculture but they face a challenge with consumers who are against GMO products.
Nevertheless, genome editing is attracting a lot of attention in the food industry for its ability to produce fruits and vegetables that possess greater qualities such as the ability to withstand certain elements and environmental factors. The process of developing gene-edited produce involves making precise changes to the DNA of living organisms.
Minneapolis-based biotechnology company Calyxt, Inc., has been making strides in producing high-quality gene-edited food products. The company has already entered into an agreement with KemX Global to refine their high-oleic soybean oil, which was developed through gene-editing. The unique oil, which is set to hit the market in 2019, is said to be associated with reducing LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while raising HDL cholesterols. According to Calyxt, such qualities were found to help reduce fat mass which would likely attract health-conscious consumers.
Calyxt also completed harvesting their newly-developed high-fiber wheat product just a weeks after the agreement with KemX. However, the product still needs to go through field testing and complete food application studies. Calyxt plans on making the product available to the public by 2020 or 2021.
According to the USDA, they have no plans to regulate plants that were made through gene-editing as long as they “aren’t plant pests or developed using pests.”
“This includes a set of new techniques that are increasingly being used by plant breeders to produce new plant varieties that are indistinguishable from those developed through traditional breeding methods,” the USDA said. “The newest of these methods, such as genome editing, expand traditional plant breeding tools because they can introduce new plant traits more quickly and precisely, potentially saving years or even decades in bringing needed new varieties to farmers.”
This allows Calyxt to launch their products into the consumer space sooner. However, the company might face challenges with consumers who turn away from GMO products. According to a recent study by market research firm GfK, the majority of consumers are more interested in low-sugar and GMO-free foods than low-fat foods. This is indicative of the consumer health concerns about GMO foods.
Nevertheless, food scientists such as the ones at New York’s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory believe that gene-editing tools such as CRISPR technology offer a lot of benefits to companies and consumers. The researchers recently made headlines for developing a gene-edited version of groundcherries that yield more fruit, nutrients and sweetness.
Consumer education might be a solution to anti-GMO movements. If consumers become aware of the health and socioeconomic benefits of genome-edited food products, more companies in the food industry will likely start to use gene-editing tools.