Remarks by Ambassador Gingrich at the CRISPR Panel Discussion

Ambassador Gingrich’s Welcome Remarks at the Panel Discussion: CRISPR Technology and its Potential to Transform Agricultural Production

Food and Agricultural Organization
Rome, Italy
November 14, 2019

Thank you. Good afternoon and welcome!

Ambassador Tom and I are delighted to convene today’s important discussion on advancing global food security through agricultural innovation.

The Ambassador and I are privileged to have unique diplomatic portfolios here in the
Eternal City. We are each fortunate to represent the United States to entities with truly global mandates: the Holy See and the UN Agencies in Rome.

Working alongside these institutions affords us the opportunity to engage with our diplomatic partners on numerous areas of mutual concern, including the pressing issue of global food security.

Our discussion could not come at a more critical time. As we gather today, more than 820 million people around the world suffer from chronic hunger – the majority of which live in fragile states or conflict zones.

While there isn’t a single cause to this crisis, the fact is that countries facing food insecurity are more at risk of crime, violence, and instability.

All of us here today, regardless of nationality or faith, share a moral obligation to act.

Of course, many governments are already working hard to mitigate food insecurity. U.S. diplomats work with governments, community leaders, and NGOs around the world to deliver humanitarian assistance.

U.S. food aid is currently being delivered to the people of Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Yemen. And the same aid is stationed for the Venezuelan people – 60 percent of whom go to bed hungry every night.

The United States is, and will remain, the greatest provider of humanitarian assistance in the world. We stand ready and willing to do our part.

Like the United States, the Holy See is committed to the global effort to eliminate world hunger. Through its vast network of charities, religious orders, and NGOs, the Vatican coordinates humanitarian efforts on the ground in some of the most fragile and affected communities in the world.

In this very building in February, Pope Francis called for advances in innovation and entrepreneurship to help the world’s poor and hungry.

He also warned in his speech that, “The current challenges are so intricate and complex that we cannot continue confronting them occasionally, with emergency resolutions.”

As experts in the field, I think you can appreciate this sentiment. Delivering food aid, like the
United States has done and will continue to do, is absolutely necessary.

However, it is not a solution. We are in need of a cure. This is why innovations in agricultural biotechnology are growing more important every day.

Modifying plant and animal genetics is not a new phenomenon. Human beings have been doing this for thousands of years, using a variety of breeding techniques that have improved the quality, safety, and quantity of agricultural production.

Today the use of biotechnology in agriculture plays a crucial role in supporting global food security. Biotech products can help address the global challenges of producing enough food, feed, fiber, and energy.

And genome editing technologies, like CRISPR, can be easier and less expensive to implement than traditional genetic engineering – providing an exciting opportunity to develop and advance new agricultural practices.

Critics will point to concerns over safety and sustainability as reasons why we should be cautious of agricultural biotechnology. While we should take these concerns seriously, we need to refute some of the myths that surround them.

Scientists around the world have concluded that there is no real evidence that biotech crops are inherently unsafe. Foods derived from agricultural biotechnology are as safe as conventionally grown foods.

The adoption of biotechnology has facilitated significant reductions in pesticides and carbon dioxide emissions. It has also improved soil and water quality.

The fact is that agricultural biotechnology enables farmers to produce more food using less resources, while helping countries to promote and achieve food security.

As governments, we should welcome these technological innovations, encourage and support their development, and provide oversight that is science-based, timely, and transparent.

The science is not ours as governments to restrict. We have a moral imperative to shape its applications, address its criticisms, and encourage open discussions like the one we’re having today.

The potential is great. We owe it to the millions of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition to seek a sustainable, effective, and ethical approach to ending food insecurity around the world.

Thank you.

Callista L. Gingrich
U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See