Seed World

ASTA Testifies at House Agriculture Subcommittee Hearing on Biotechnology

US Capitol

Today, American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) Vice President of Scientific Affairs and Policy Fan-Li Chou testified at a joint hearing of the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittees on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture and Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research. Chou spoke to the unprecedent challenges facing today’s agriculture and food system, and discussed the actions needed, domestically and internationally, to enable long-term economic, social and environmental sustainability through evolving plant breeding innovations like gene editing. Her testimony highlighted examples of cutting-edge research across an array of crops,from row crops and cover crops, to vegetable and specialty crops,in public and private sector breeding programs across the country. These new and innovative varieties can allow farmers to grow more, using less, while fighting food waste, sequestering carbon, boosting nutritional benefits, and much more.

“In the 21st century, we are facing the convergence of critical challenges to the agricultural food system: climate change, rapidly growing global population, expansion of the global middle class, environmental degradation, and biodiversity loss,” said Chou. “The need for improved plant varieties is more pressing than ever. Thankfully, plant breeders have an unprecedented number of tools to work with. The most exciting of late is gene editing.”

Gene editing enables plant breeders to leverage the decades of accumulated scientific discovery and understanding of plant genetics, its natural variability, and its interaction with the environment, to increase the accuracy, precision, and efficiency of plant breeding. Chou explained that the work of the public and private sectors complement each other, and that strong research investments are needed, along with clear, consistent and risk- and science-based policies, to ensure widespread access to new and evolving breeding tools.

“One of the exciting things about gene-editing tools is the potential for widespread access across breeding programs of all sizes, including the public and private sectors, across all crops, and across farming operations of all sizes, production methods, and geographies,” said Chou. “Federal and global policies will play a huge role in access to these products. It is important that policies be clear, and risk- and science-based; it’s also important that there is harmonization across global policies — otherwise, innovation will be limited to very few crop varieties, and the benefits will never be fully realized across the agriculture sector. Appropriate policies can incentivize investments in plant breeding innovation, such as gene editing, creating new jobs and market opportunities, and boosting sustainability throughout the agriculture and food value chain.”