Gene Editing Meets Supermarket Shelves
Many customers want to eat better, and CPG companies are constantly introducing new products to align with every new fad and trend out there, from keto to super carb and everything in between.
Two statistics, however, are stunning: Just one in 10 adults meets the federal fruit or vegetable recommendations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the human population is expected to hit 10 billion by 2050, creating challenges of how to sustainably feed this many people.
- As a solution to the issues of getting people to eat more nutritiously and of feeding a rapidly expanding population, the potential of gene-edited foods in the next couple of years is huge.
- Companies like Pairwise and Amfora hope that their gene-editing work will bring greater diversity to supermarket shelves, making produce better-tasting and more accessible, and creating protein-enriched soy that’s less expensive to process.
- Beyond the advantages to consumers, gene-edited foods offer benefits to the greater supply chain, and the planet as a whole.
Several companies are working on gene-edited foods — manipulating the genetic material of plants in a way that could happen naturally — to help solve some of these challenges. Although they’re not on supermarket shelves yet, the potential of gene-edited foods in the next couple of years is huge.
Durham, N.C.-based Pairwise is working on specialty crops such as berries, stone fruits and leafy greens to make them more snackable, removing seeds and pits, and tastier, eliminating the bitter or pungent flavor of some vegetables.
“Something that Americans really struggle with is eating enough fruits and vegetables,” says Heather Hudson, head of collaboration for Pairwise. “If we can take some of those barriers away, then hopefully, we’ll start eating more of the better food.”
San Francisco-based Amfora is using gene editing to increase the protein content in foods, while also decreasing the starch or carbohydrate content of a crop. Its primary focus right now is on soy, which could have far-reaching benefits for plant-based foods as well as animal feed.
“The problem that Amfora is trying to tackle is a two-fold problem: one, to make enough protein to nourish 10 billion people over the next 20 years or so,” says Lloyd Kunimoto, president and CEO of Amfora, “but two, do it in a way that reduces the carbon footprint of food production so that we’re not destroying the planet and we can try to preserve the planet for future generations.”
Another distinction between the two, according to Kunimoto, is that most GMOs were introduced initially because of the benefit for the farmers, but gene-edited science largely centers on making crops better for the consumer.
“One of the reasons GMO crops have not been accepted well is that there’s no direct benefit to the consumer that’s easy to understand,” he says. “I think the difference with our product is not necessarily the technology we use to make it — in other words, editing versus GMO — but the fact that our products, at least our high-protein products, have something that the consumer wants.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in June that — under its biotechnology regulations — it doesn’t regulate or have any plans to regulate plants that could otherwise have been developed through traditional breeding techniques, as long as they’re not plant pests or developed using plant pests.
Pairwise is also working extensively with berries and stone fruits — most predominantly, cherries — to make them more accessible for consumers. Gene editing can potentially eliminate seeds and pits, give them greater year-round availability, promote snacking with smaller sizes, and make them easier for growers to process.
At this time, Amfora is working most intently on soybeans, using gene editing to create high-protein soy, while lowering the starch and carbohydrate content. This work has the potential to change one of the fastest-growing segments in the food industry: plant-based foods.