US pork lobby calls for relaxation of gene-editing regulations

US pork lobby calls for relaxation of gene-editing regulations
Pork industry stakeholders in the US are urging the country’s Food and Drug Administration to amend regulations governing gene-editing technology in livestock.
Photo: FW Archive

The National Pork Producers’ Council in the US has petitioned the US Food and Drug Association (FDA) to relax regulations with regard to gene-editing technology in livestock.

This followed President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order to streamline the review process for agricultural technology earlier this month.

According to a statement by the council, it had been hoped that the order would relax how the FDA regulated gene-editing, a technology that could be used to alter the DNA in pigs to make them more resistant to disease.

However, the FDA “inaccurately classifies livestock as drugs and farms as drug-manufacturing facilities”, the statement said.

Responding to the statement, the FDA said it believed that the association’s approach to gene-editing was in line with Trump’s executive order.

The FDA was working to implement the order and sought to avoid any unnecessary barriers to innovation in plant and animal biotechnology. The agency stated that it did not “regulate animals as drugs, but regulates intentional alterations to genomes in animals”.

According to the council, the FDA regulations could lead to a lengthy and expensive process for researchers and companies to gain US approval for gene-edited, which could put that country at risk of falling behind other suppliers such as Canada, Brazil and China.

Gene-editing differed from traditional genetic modification where genes were added from other organisms, as it identified specific genes and then made changes by amending or deleting it.

In this way, genomes could be altered quickly and precisely, and agricultural products that had been altered could get to the market quickly and cheaply, which would be beneficial to farmers, the statement added.

The council therefore sought to have regulation of gene-editing transferred to the US Department of Agriculture rather than being administered by the FDA.

Dan Kulich, deputy director of science and technology at the council, said the FDA needed “to go back to the drawing board” regarding its approach to gene-editing.

The pork industry in the US was currently under a lot of pressure due to diseases such as African swine flu, and experts were looking for ways to ensure the survival of the industry.

Kulich said the pork lobby was working with the Trump administration “to discuss ways to move forward, and frankly make sure that the FDA hears and understands our concerns”.