Are Vaccines Calming Fears Over Biotech?

Could all the publicity over the effectiveness of Covid vaccines help calm public concern over biotechnology? Stuart Smyth, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Saskatchewan, says it’s quite likely on this week’s episode of the Germination Podcast.

Current regulations in Canada surrounding Plants with Novel Traits (PNTs) have created an innovation barrier in terms of applying genome editing technologies to the development of new varieties, particularly in public sector research.

That’s the finding of a recent survey of 93 public and private plant breeders conducted by researchers at the University of Saskatchewan, including Smyth as leader researcher.

The results contribute to the ongoing debate regarding how, or whether, to regulate products of genome-edited plant breeding, beyond the existing agronomic and safety requirements. He collaborated on the survey with Savannah Gleim and Simona Lubieniechi.

According to the survey results, current PNT regulations are having an impact on present variety development research. Smyth, along with Peter W. B. Phillips of the university’s School of Public Policy, have sent a submission to Health Canada as part of a 60-day consultation period that is part of an effort to review and revamp Canada’s novel food regulations.

On this week’s episode, Smyth says the mass enthusiasm over Covid vaccines could very well help the public to realize that biotechnology is hugely beneficial to Canadians and not something to fear, which can only help the novel food discussions.

“So much of the media coverage, thankfully, is making note of the fact that these vaccines are biotechnology-developed, and the safety and efficacy of this technology. The public has been seeing the word biotech and safety together as part of the daily conversation,” he says.

“The public has been greatly reassured by the biotech development of COVID vaccines and are thinking, ‘Well, if I’m willing to put a GM drug in my arm to prevent COVID, then my opposition to eating a genetically modified food product is kind of irrelevant.'”