Gene editing could be the rural electrification of our time – US


Ted McKinney, United States Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs delivered the keynote address at the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) annual conference 'From Trade Wars to Consumer Trust: The Challenge For Agri-Food' at the Killashee Hotel in Naas today. Pic Finbarr O'Rourke
Ted McKinney, United States Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs delivered the keynote address at the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) annual conference ‘From Trade Wars to Consumer Trust: The Challenge For Agri-Food’ at the Killashee Hotel in Naas today. Pic Finbarr O’Rourke

Biotechnology advances such as gene editing could be the rural electrification of our time, according to Ted McKinney, the US Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs.

Speaking at the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) conference in Naas, McKinney called on Ireland to be ‘bold’ in its work in the EU, saying that the US needs Ireland’s “common sense voice” in Europe, particularly if the UK exits Europe.

McKinney, who has a strong background in biotechnology, on his first trip to Ireland said that the world now has the technologies today to address many issues around feeding the worlds population, but that we are at a crossroads on where science can deliver solutions.

“You are now faced with a decision. Are you as a science association going to say we need those tools in the world?”

Gene editing, he said, is not GMO, but it is technology that could be incredibly valuable in the world and he said it could have a similar impact to rural electrification.

“I think it will take its place if it is allowed to fly.”

He also urged Ireland not to shrug its shoulders and wait for “the narrative will be stolen by Greenpeace”.

McKinney asked if you could develop healthier oils, that will eliminate trans fats and bring saturated fats down in the diet, and increase sustainability, would you be interested? Or, if you could produce crops with significantly less pesticide use, would you?

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He also asked if we could develop crops that are improved with drought resistance would we or if we could develop food, such as an apple, that has a longer shelf life and we could address food waste, would we?

To do this, he said the world must allow biotechnology to deliver the solutions it can on these fronts.

Trade Wars

McKinney, whose twin brother and parents are farmers, told the conference that his head and heard is still with the rancher and that the US would not allow its farmers to go bust and that US President Donald Trump is very much behind US farmers.

He said that Trump is about free, fair and reciprocal trade and that trade deals must be a ‘win win’ for all parties.

Current trade disputes, he said, may settle more quickly than people think, but he warned that issues with China make take longer to settle due to “misbehaviour” by China.

He accused China of stealing intellectual property, including stealing germ seeds out of US fields and crop protection science.

“There has got to be some behaviours taught, or some intellectual property will end up within the confines of China.”

He said that the US needs to hear from China that it will no longer force technology transfer or steal intellectual property.

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