With gene editing widely touted as the future of agricultural biotechnology, seed trait developers are looking for ways to show they are using the technology responsibly.

The latest move is the formation of a management program for companies engaged in developing plant products through gene editing, which involves altering plant DNA without the introduction of foreign genetic material.

The Plant Breeding Innovation Management Program “establishes a common set of best practices as we address the diversity of varied regulatory frameworks around the world while embracing the opportunities presented by gene editing,” said Chris Holdgreve, CEO of the Global Stewardship Group (GSG), which developed the program.

The first members, announced Tuesday, are Bayer, Corteva Agriscience, KWS SAAT, Limagrain, Syngenta and Tropic Biosciences. 

“The key objective of the program is to enhance transparency with the value chain and other stakeholders to support market acceptance and facilitate the availability of the product benefits to growers and consumers,” according to a summary of the program from the Global Stewardship Group.

Holdgreve said third-party auditors will visit company sites armed with checklists to determine that “yes, this organization has the appropriate processes, policies or procedures in place,” including internationally approved standards for laboratory operation.

Companies also will look at stakeholder engagement — “what is your process to let them know that something is coming to the marketplace?” — and the international regulatory outlook for the gene-edited products they are developing.

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“When you have that varying regulatory framework, you need to be thoughtful about how you bring those products to market,” says Scott Mundell, senior manager – global biology, permitting and compliance at Corteva, chairman of the GSG board. “Right now … certain gene edits may not have much of any regulatory framework that they need to meet because of their proven safety and similarity to conventional breeding, but those exact same agronomic traits might be highly regulated in one of the United States' export markets.”

The stewardship program is aimed more at companies’ value chains, not consumers, so that companies can tell the firms they do business with, “we're taking this proactive approach. This goes above and beyond regulations," Holdgreve said.

Aside from communicating with the value chain, “there’s a huge value to have somebody come in and provide that independent look at your systems,” Holdgreve said.

Duncan Ribbons, vice president of intellectual property and regulatory at Tropic Biosciences in England, said the stewardship program will allow his company to provide assurances that “these products have been produced to high standards.”

Tropic is working on gene-edited bananas with reduced-browning, extended shelf-life and disease resistance. Closest to market: Tropic’s bananas which don’t bruise as easily, significantly reducing waste.

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