Perdue at Purdue: USDA Secretary Voices Support for Gene Edited Plants During Recent College Visit

Purdue University Photo/Tom Campbell

Inari CEO Ponsi Trivisvavet was among a select group of agribusiness executives invited to meet earlier this month with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue at the home of Purdue University President Mitch Daniels. Read on for Ponsi’s take on what was later discussed on the topic of gene editing and the secretary’s stance regarding recent advances in plant science.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue visited West Lafayette, Indiana — epicenter of Inari’s plant breeding and product development efforts — to celebrate Purdue University Ag Week. Following a breakfast meeting that included myself and a handful of other ag industry leaders, the secretary joined university President Mitch Daniels for a public and very frank one-on-one regarding critical issues in the agriculture industry.

Along with a discussion of trade deals, border tensions, and concerns over recruiting the next generation of U.S. farmers, Secretary Perdue reinforced his endorsement for the advanced science that underpins the next wave of agriculture breakthroughs, which are precisely the type of discoveries we’re working on at Inari.

The secretary’s remarks on gene edited plants drew from the USDA’s March 28 statement on plant breeding innovation, which provides clarification on policies regarding the new techniques. He didn’t mince words as he discussed the potential hazards of rejecting the new tools our plant breeders have available to them as they seek to improve crop performance and mitigate the effects of climate change and food security.

“We have created many problems in society today because we’re very comfortable with our food supply — particularly in (developed nations),” Secretary Perdue remarked. “I hope we don’t have to get hungry again to accept these wonderful technologies,” he said of gene-editing, before admonishing countries that seek to prohibit this approach to plant breeding.

“I hope we don’t become like the European Union,” the secretary continued. “I call (the EU) a technology-free zone. They righteously talk about ‘How do we eliminate world hunger by 2030?’” he said, referring to the year by which the global population is expected to reach 9 billion. “But without using the tools that can do that?”

Secretary Perdue, in turn, praised nations that embrace new technologies, including Brazil and Canada, and he encouraged the EU to keep an open mind on cutting-edge approaches that address the challenges of global food production.

As a company with an international focus and a mission to develop crops that are more sustainable and resilient to climate change, we agree with the secretary and intend to stay involved as the industry convenes a global dialog on the benefits of these advances.

Summing up, the secretary reiterated a point that so many of us in the industry already believe:

“All (gene editing) does is expedite what can happen naturally (in plant breeding),” Secretary Perdue said, adding that advanced technologies will offer “amazing, exponential productivity that we can use to help feed 9 billion people.”

And the company he used to illustrate businesses that are successfully applying these technologies to address nutrition, yield, and other challenges? It’s the one he referred to twice as the “example right here in town”: Inari.