‘We are at a crossroads in our capability of using science to deliver solutions to the world’

Ted McKinney, under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), posed a number of questions to delegates at today’s Agricultural Science Association (ASA) From Trade Wars to Consumer Trust conference.

He asked: “If you could develop healthier oils – canola, rapeseed, soybeans in our case – that would eliminate trans fats and bring saturated fats down significantly in the diet, all the while increasing sustainability, would you do it?

“If you could produce crops with significantly less pesticide use, would you? If you could develop products aimed at animal comfort and well-being, would you do it?

He added: “If you could develop crops – including grass, alfalfa and silage – that are improved with drought resistance, would you do that?

“If safe products were developed to enhance carbon sequestration through crops or animals, would you be interested?

“If products could be developed to address pollution and climate change, would you be interested?

“And if you could develop food that has a longer shelf-life and doesn’t spoil as quickly and we could address food waste, would you be interested?”

McKinney noted that technologies – such as gene-editing – are available today to address many of these issues and some are making their way forward; but some are being blocked by the so-called representatives of consumers.

We are at a crossroads in our capability of using science to deliver solutions to the world. They are out there and they are coming at a breakneck speed.

The USDA representative also touched on the decision of the European Court of Justice to place gene-edited crops in the same category as genetically-modified (GM) crops.

“All of us heard and read the decision out of the European Court of Justice. I am not here to pass judgement on the European Court of Justice, just as I wouldn’t want you to pass judgement on our Supreme Court.

“They rendered their opinion and you are now faced with a decision,” he said.

He stressed that farmers and scientists need to step to the fore when it comes to challenging the EU on this decision.

“I hope you don’t shrug your shoulders. I hope you don’t wait for the elections and a new Commission and work with them. The narrative will have been stolen by Greenpeace by that time.

“I think it’s up to you to decide your future on things like that that can be of such benefit to you. If it goes the way that GMOs do, I don’t know what we will do when the next technology is going to come.

“We are at a crossroads and I am betting on you and with you,” he said.