And while IFIC has long hosted the annual event, the addition of EatingWell provided a new perspective on the intersection of technology and diet trends.
As part of that discussion, the summit highlighted the role that gene editing can play in protecting the future of foods.
Mark Guiltinan, professor of plant molecular biology at Penn State University, joined the Sustainable Food Production panel to talk about his team’s work to protect the cacao tree from disease using CRISPR.
Read EatingWell’s October cover story, which focuses on gene editing.
Higher temperatures as a result of climate change are expanding favorable habitats for pests and plant diseases, putting the chocolate-producing crop in danger.
Guiltinan opened his discussion by asking “Can you imagine a world without chocolate?!”
No, Mark, we can’t!
The professor went on to note that the promise of such tools like gene editing to save crops needs to be raised beyond the farming community, exclaiming “we need to get our message outside the choir.”
He emphasized that we can’t afford to throw out some of the most important tools we have, including CRISPR, if we are serious about sustainable food production.
Mark couldn’t have made a better point. As temperatures and the threat of disease continue to increase, innovations like gene editing and other tools to enhance agriculture will become increasingly urgent.
Additionally, the economic effects of losing the cacao tree would be dire for regions that rely on farming the crop for a living. That impact would also ripple throughout the candy industry, who, in the U.S. alone, employs nearly 54,000 people and supports 550,000 jobs in related industries.
Interestingly, Mark’s team is one of the only labs in the world to use CRISPR to find a better way to protect cacao trees. Expect that to change, however, especially if one of the most popular treats in the world starts to disappear.