STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now we have the story of genetic editing, changing the genes of living things. A genetic editing tool can create mushrooms that do not turn brown. It can make pigs resistant to a disease. Kristofor Husted of member station KBIA reports on why some people in the food industry do not want to use it.
KRISTOFOR HUSTED, BYLINE: The contentious fight over genetically modified food has put us in a place where we actually have junk food whose labels boast GMO free. Food producers got to this point because they didn't earn public trust before sending out the first wave of GMOs 20 years ago. In an attempt to not repeat that mistake, producers are on the offensive for round two of the great GMO debate. It involves genetic technology called - bear with me here - Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR for short. CRISPR can turn off a gene within an organism, like the one that makes mushrooms turn brown. Scientists call it gene editing.
DANA PERLS: These new gene editing technologies, like CRISPR, are genetic engineering. And if this is genetic engineering, then call it that.
HUSTED: Skeptics, like Dana Perls with the environmental group Friends of the Earth, say food companies are trying to distance themselves from words like GMO and genetic engineering that have caused them trouble with consumers. That's why a group including the Pork Board, Monsanto and Syngenta are joining forces to get ahead of the issue. Charlie Arnot leads the coalition and has three key strategies for getting consumers on board with CRISPR. No. 1 - it's not a secret.
CHARLIE ARNOT: Those involved in technology have to be willing to be much more transparent and much more engaged in a public conversation and dialogue in order to answer those questions, address the skepticism and ultimately, result in earning consumer trust in what they're doing in gene editing.
HUSTED: The coalition has members talking about the technology and its benefits related to animal welfare and the environment. They hope to build trust, which is No. 2.
ARNOT: If people trust you, science doesn't matter. And if people don't trust you, science doesn't matter. It only matters after you cross that trust threshold.
HUSTED: And that's the third strategy. These companies want consumers to know CRISPR is different from genetic engineering. CRISPR changes the way genes are expressed. It doesn't add genetic material from another species. Stop by the organic section of your local supermarket and you'll find the coalition has an uphill fight.
Hi. What's your name?
MADELEINE LEMIEUX: Madeleine Lemieux.
HUSTED: So you buy organic?
LEMIEUX: Most of the time.
HUSTED: And why?
LEMIEUX: I guess partially because I don't know what GMOs do (laughter).
HUSTED: So what if I told you there are mushrooms that don't turn brown? Is that something that you'd be interested in?
LEMIEUX: I would be leery (laughter). Things are supposed to decompose, right?
HUSTED: Those CRISPR-developed mushrooms already exist but are likely a few years away from grocery store shelves, which food producers hope is enough time to convince shoppers, like Lemieux, that CRISPR technology is both safe and beneficial. For NPR News, I'm Kristofor Husted in Columbia, Mo.
INSKEEP: And that story, which will never turn brown, comes to us from Harvest Public Media, which focuses on Ag and food production.
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