A Framework for Trust

CLIENT: Coalition for Responsible Gene Editing in Agriculture

The Challenge

Gene-edited foods are now appearing in stores and food service, with hundreds more in development. Gene editing has tremendous potential for agriculture — addressing environmental concerns, improving animal health and welfare, enhancing food quality and nutrition, and reducing food waste.

Most consumers are not familiar with gene editing, and many have questions about its use and safety.

Along with visionary food and agriculture leaders, the Coalition for Responsible Gene Editing in Agriculture understood early on that uncertainty could lead to public rejection. The Coalition was founded in 2016 to engage with diverse parties and develop programs to build trust and acceptance of gene editing in food and agriculture.

The Results

Our Approach

The Coalition had an ambitious goal – create the food industry’s first-ever program to verify the transparent and responsible use of gene editing.

At Look East, we called upon our network of food and agriculture connections to identify who needed to be at the table to reflect diverse perspectives. The Coalition engaged a steering committee with representatives of food companies, academia, civil society, technology developers, and farmers. The group reviewed successful market acceptance programs, defined guiding principles and solicited input from more than 450 stakeholders.

Then the steering committee began to create a credible, workable and affordable framework to provide assurance that those using gene editing within the framework’s guidelines are worthy of trust. As gene editing can impact every phase of food production, from R&D to the farm to processing and retail, building public trust requires collaboration and alignment of values.

The Look East team compiled input from these stakeholders and identified common themes. We also evaluated successful models and programs used in other industries. We worked with the committee and Coalition leadership to draft the initial framework and guided it through numerous rounds of review and revisions. The process was detailed and thorough to build consensus throughout the agriculture and food system.

The Framework for Responsible Use of Gene Editing in Agriculture was publicly launched in March 2022, along with third-party verification using professional auditors to objectively evaluate the practices of technology developers applying gene editing in food and agriculture.

The Results

This framework is the first and only voluntary market acceptance program available for businesses and research institutions to verify the transparent and responsible use of gene editing. The framework outlines seven principles, commitments and guidance for organizations to follow to demonstrate their responsible use. Two key principles set the Framework apart from other voluntary acceptance programs – stakeholder engagement and social considerations. The framework encourages participants to engage in conversations with downstream stakeholders to prevent market disruptions and to consider what impacts – positive or negative – this technology could have on plants or animals, the environment and our society.

The Framework has been formally endorsed by: Benson Hill, BIO, Cargill, Corteva AgriScience, Costco Wholesale, FMI – The Food Industry Association, Genus, PepsiCo and Tropic Biosciences. Corteva AgriScience was the first technology developer to become verified in November 2022.

Additionally, the Coalition developed a communication guide to help interested stakeholders engage in productive public conversations about gene editing use and benefits.

Just as one of the principles of the Framework is continuous improvement, the Coalition is also committed to seeking input to enhance the Framework, increase its credibility and visibility, and streamline the verification process. Look East facilitated an open comment period in 2023 to solicit feedback from stakeholders. Their input was collected, organized and provided to the Framework Oversight Committee with recommendations. The revised Framework 2.0 was released in November 2023.