EU court rules gene editing = GMO

Jim Long provides commentary on the recent changes regarding gene editing as GMO and how this could affect pork demand from consumers
calendar icon 1 August 2018
clock icon 4 minute read

A couple weeks ago we wrote about McDonalds executive Ernie Meier speaking at the National Pork Industry Conference explaining that gene-edited Pigs will be a tough sell to consumers who will equate gene edited as GMO (genetically modified organisms). Without saying it explicitly he was warning that McDonalds, with 69 million customers globally per day, wasn’t really interested in trying to explain or sell gene edited or GMO Pork.

Last week the European Court of Justice in a landmark ruling stated: “Genetically edited organisms that were until now excluded from GMO regulation will now be subject to European Union GMO law.”

This will affect crops and livestock. The most relevant piece for swine producers is the gene edited research that has been ongoing for PRRS resistance. Now gene editing research will be subject to all GMO regulations in Europe. This will definitely slow if not kill investments in the GMO work in swine.

The compounding effect is that now the huge market base in Europe will have produce labelled as GMO. We believe packers, retailers or food services will want to lead a fight to explain GMO pork to consumers. We expect fairly soon some packers, retailers or foodservices will insist on non-GMO pork as a certification and for them as a branding and marketing opportunity. This in itself will pressure other pork suppliers to follow the non-GMO Pork label. It’s an easy play since there is no GMO pork currently, but in itself will kill the concept of gene edited = GMO pigs and pork.

We expect the European Union Court ruling will move to all countries with gene editing falling under the rule of genetic modified organisms. Europe is a huge market and a global trendsetter.

As producers we have always had the concern of pork demand. Demand can be affected by many things: product quality; taste; market access (tariffs, trade barriers); disease (swine flu cut US demand). Now throw in the GMO story – we don’t think it’s a battle we can win at consumer level. We want more customers, not less in the pork industry. Nothing is more important than customers. Each one makes their own buying decision.

We believe that gene editing = GMO as a panacea for the swine industry is a misguided path that will only destroy markets and demand. It’s not the science we are against, we are against losing customers.

Following is the position of Genus PIC with regards to the ruling taken from an article within Feedstuffs.

Genus PIC, a leading swine genetics company that touts non-GMO breeding stock, also expressed disappointment in the ruling but said it is hopeful that the decision will bring to the forefront the debate about how to best manage the risks and harness the undeniable benefits of the technology.

“Genus is committed to continued engagement with regulators in Europe and other geographies as well as with consumers as we realise the benefits of this technology in a responsible manner,” the company said.

An article was featured in The Guardian last week.

Emily Houghton

Editor, The Pig Site

Emily Houghton is a Zoology graduate from Cardiff University and was the editor of The Pig Site from October 2017 to May 2020. Emily has worked in livestock husbandry, and has written, conducted and assisted with research projects regarding the synthesis of welfare and productivity of free-range food species.

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