Gene editing plants, as the MBIE report notes, could improve resistance to disease, tolerance to drought and lift nutritional quality.
It could also help develop grass that reduces methane emissions from the stock that eats it. Last month, a US start-up called Calyxt made the first commercial sale of soybean oil made from a gene edited crop to an unnamed restaurant chain in the Midwest. It’s claimed the oil has fewer saturated fats and zero trans fats and is being used to fry, make sauces, and dress salads. At the same time, Calyxt announced a soybean meal as a premium non-GMO feed ingredient with added benefit for livestock.
The MBIE report also lists a number of possible benefits from gene edited animals, though for any gene-editing to happen, the country will need to change its current position. As an example of that position, media reports that a gene-edited ryegrass developed by NZ AgResearch that might reduce methane emissions from cattle that eat it cannot be grown here outside a laboratory and field trials are having to take place offshore.
Late last year, the final report of the Prime Minister’s former Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, detailed ways gene editing can benefit agriculture with pasture management and emissions. Sir Peter noted, “this is the core technology of the future, alongside the digital technologies and precision agriculture, we can't afford not to have the conversation."
As developments across the world unfold, we’re perhaps edging closer to having that conversation.