The future potential benefits of gene editing spans many aspects of life — from human and animal health to agriculture and conservation. Gene editing makes precise, intentional and beneficial changes in the genetic material of living things. As one of the tools used for gene editing, CRISPR technology shows tremendous promise for improvements in human health and food production.
Of course, such technology does not come without controversy.
Randy Spronk, hog producer from Edgerton, Minn., recently had a place at the table to share his and agriculture’s perspective on the use of gene editing and the future of the technology. He joined researchers, academics, human health experts, agriculture professionals, non-profit leaders and regulators at CRISPRcon, that was held in Boston and organized by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT.
“Gene editing will give us, as farmers, more options in how we produce pork in a way that is responsible for people, pigs and the planet,” says Spronk, a third-generation farmer from Edgerton, Minn. Spronk is a former president of the National Pork Producers Council who, along with his son, raises pigs, soybeans and corn.
One of the most devastating diseases to pigs is porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome. Before gene editing, there has not been an effective cure for the PRRS virus, which results in tremendous suffering and often premature death of affected pigs. Through gene editing, genetic resistance to PRRS can be created through a process that mirrors what could happen naturally or through traditional genetic selection. Decreasing PRRS cases would alleviate pigs’ suffering, reduce the use of medically important antibiotics, and help farmers keep pace with the growing demand for more and better food, while using fewer natural resources.
“As a farmer and pork producer, I believe we should openly and transparently communicate the potential benefits and responsible use of gene editing,” Spronk says. “I welcome every chance I get to talk to people about how I farm.”
Watch this video to see what Spronk has to say about taking pork producers’ message to such a stage.