WASHINGTON DC — Three little words: genetically modified organism (GMO). They’ve sparked huge debate — some fact-based, some not so much — among label-reading consumers.

Genetic modification involves incorporating genetics from one living organism into another to create a new variety or strain. While it has greatly benefited industries like farming and food technology, it has also caused great trepidation among consumers.

During policy update sessions at the June 11-13 Bakers Fly-In and Policy Summit, hosted by the American Bakers Association, American Society of Baking and Retail Bakers of America, Bill Lapp, founder and president of Advanced Economic Solutions, shared important information around the differences between GMOs and gene editing, and what it could mean for the future of grain-based foods.


“Gene editing comes from the ability to map the genome of wheat and other crops,” Lapp said. “It can accelerate the timing of — and the ability to — improving crop varieties.”

The key difference between GMOs and gene editing is that the latter involves only the use of genes from the same organism,  essentially improving varieties through the same methods used today. For wheat, that would involve adjusting DNA markers on a specific crop. This technology suggests an opportunity to create healthier, heartier crops using the plant’s own DNA structure, as opposed to incorporating anything else into it.

While GMOs are commercially acceptable for producing corn and soybean crops, there is no such thing as genetically modified wheat. Meanwhile, gene editing is in its infancy in the US market but has been introduced in areas such as Australia and the European Union.

“I believe that if there’s a value proposition for gene editing, then consumers could be more likely to accept it.” — Bill Lapp | founder and president | Advanced Economic Solutions


The question on viability for gene editing in wheat likely hinges primarily on consumer acceptance, Lapp suggested.

As genetic modification gained traction in US agriculture, benefits emerged for farmers in terms of improving yields and increasing the productivity for farmers. However, there was not a clear value proposition for consumers in terms of what could be done with those varieties to improve food production or health benefits from those foods.

“I believe that if there’s a value proposition for gene editing, then consumers could be more likely to accept it,” Lapp said. “If you introduce a technology, and you can identify a benefit or nutritional value for the consumer, they will be more willing to accept it. And I believe that a much easier path is to utilize technology from gene editing.”


As with any new type of technology, it’s all about getting the conversation started. Lapp contends that if the baking industry — and any tangential industries involved in wheat production — can steer the conversation toward how gene mapping can benefit both agriculture and consumers, the future could be bright.

“We are approaching a crossroad with regard to gene editing, and what initial varieties will be introduced into commercial use,” Lapp said.  “At this point it is unknown whether the benefits of these new gene-edited wheat would accrue to producers of wheat, as was the case in GMOs, or the consumers would derive a significant share of the benefits of new varieties that utilize gene-editing. But if we allow all the benefits to go to the farmers, the risk is that it will send a message to our food and agricultural system to say, ‘We’re going to provide you something that’s more drought tolerant, gives you bigger yields and is averse to disease,’ then consumers could say, ‘Why should I want products that use gene editing if all it’s doing is helping the farmer? I want something to benefit me as well.’ That’s where the discussion needs to head over the next two to five years.”