Work at leading research universities and private sector labs indicates that we will be able to alter the genetic makeup of many farm animals within the next few years. The question remains: Will consumers buy food from these creatures?
Having been afforded the opportunity to attend The Economist magazine's "The Company of the Future Innovation Forum," we learned firsthand that the Silicon Valley business community has been placing time, energy, and, most importantly, money behind two areas of innovation: A.I. and CRISPR. That assessment came directly from highly regarded thought-leader Reid Hoffman, who is a co-founder of LinkedIn. Hoffman runs in the same circles as founders of Uber, Facebook, Twitter, and other internet sensations.
Now A.I., in this case, doesn't stand for artificial insemination . . . this acronym stands for artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence could one day lead to driverless tractors among other advancements.
Meanwhile, CRISPR is one of three leading gene-editing technologies that alters the makeup of plants and animals. This work goes far beyond glyphosate-resistant crops. It involves precise gene insertion, gene cutting, and even turning genes on and off. Not all of this gene-editing research involves transgenic or across-species gene movement. Some developments are within specific species . . . directly within dairy breeds, for example.
Silicon Valley's renewed interest in gene manipulation comes directly from the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) recent approval of AquaBounty's AquaAdvantage Salmon that reaches market weight in half the time and Simplot's Innate Potato that resists the blight that caused the Irish potato famine. After 20 years of research in the case of the salmon, Silicon Valley investors believe the door to move research and FDA approval is now open.
While consumers in North America and Europe may resist purchasing foods from gene-edited species, others may welcome access to lower-cost, more abundant food. In China, which has far less regulation than the U.S., there is significant gene modification taking place.
How this situation impacts those of us in dairy circles remains to be seen. Even within our lifetime, we may simply order gene-altered embryos capable of maturing into cows more resistant to a host of diseases and disorders and that produce a unique nutrition profile in their milk.