New, innovative technologies are introduced in the world of food seemingly every day. But very few have the potential to fundamentally change the entire industry. CRISPR is one of those game-changers. But there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding this groundbreaking technology. Read on to discover the answers to some of the most important questions about the new tool that’s redefining food.
- What is CRISPR?
CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is shorthand for the CRISPR-Cas9 system, a tool that is capable of editing parts of the genome by removing, adding or altering specific sections of DNA. Essentially, CRISPR allows for the permanent modification of genes in living organisms in a way that is faster and more controllable than ever—and without inserting a new gene from another organism (more on that later). If the editing takes place within a somatic (non-reproductive) cell, the modifications last for one generation. However, if the editing is executed within a germline (reproductive) cell, the modifications are passed down to subsequent generations.
- What does it mean for food?
It doesn’t take much imagination to start dreaming of the immense impact CRISPR could have—and is having already—on the food production industry. From extending the freshness threshold of produce to improving the quality of beef, genetic alterations that used to take a decade of breeding can now be done almost instantaneously. Some potential advantages include:
- Keeping perishables fresher for longer
- Eliminating antibiotic resistance for safer foods
- Improved quality of product in both taste and appearance
- Greater yield and profitability for producers
- Are CRISPR-edited foods “non-GMO”?
As if the “Is it a GMO?” debate needed any more fuel, CRISPR now adds another layer to the discussion. Since the technology does not introduce foreign genes from other organisms, but rather modifies existing genes, the case could be made that CRISPR-edited foods are not GMOs. On the other hand, the very function of CRISPR is to modify genes. So by definition, the opposite argument could be made. Bottom line: before CRISPR was introduced there was contentious debate on defining GMOs; now definition is even harder.
- So are they regulated the same way as GMOs?
Not yet. Because CRISPR-edited foods do not introduce a gene from another organism, the USDA has said they will not be regulated in the same way as GMOs. But the technology is still young, and as more is learned official stances are subject to change.
- How is this being received by consumers?
It’s not yet. It’s still too early in its infancy. As a result, CRISPR could easily be lumped together with previous GMO technology or defined incorrectly among the general public.
The early stage of CRISPR technology may work to the food industry’s advantage. There is still time to get ahead of any stigmas and misperceptions and to promote the positive influence of the technology. There is still opportunity to control the conversation.
Here at Charleston|Orwig, we like to be at the forefront of growth. To discuss how innovative marketing and strategic communications can grow your business in the ever-changing food industry, contact Mark Gale at email@example.com or call 262.563.5129.