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Government must consider animal welfare in genome editing

News Section Icon Published 01/12/2021

Why does factory farming still exist?

Today (1st December), we welcomed a new report calling on the Government to ensure animal welfare is properly considered when approving new breeding technologies.

The report - by the independent ethics board, Nuffield Council of Bioethics – focuses on ethical and social issues around genome editing and farm animal breeding.  

Potential for unethical uses

Genome editing can be used to alter the function of a gene. This could bring real benefits to farming, for example, by making animals resistant to viruses that cause disease and suffering. However, there is also potential for it to be used in unethical ways that compromise animal welfare and prop up factory farming.

Our Chief Policy Advisor, Peter Stevenson, who worked with Nuffield to produce the report, said: “We absolutely want to avoid genome editing being used to further intensive farming practices. That could be really harmful to the welfare of the animals, and further increase problems with unsustainable food and farming systems.”

“So we are calling on the Government to put animal welfare at the heart of plans when approving new breeding technologies in farming and food production,”  Peter continues.  “Traditional selective breeding has been used to drive animals to ever faster growth rates and higher yields.  This has often pushed animals beyond their physiological limits and caused great suffering.  Gene editing is now poised to exacerbate such problems.”

Full policy review

The UK Government intends to relax current regulations on gene editing in England. The Nuffield report recommends a full policy review including:

  • Investing in public consultations.
  • Enhancing welfare standards and clear guidance on responsible breeding.
  • Financial incentives for farmers and breeders to increase animal welfare standards.
  • Food retailers committing to only sell meat from animals that are bred responsibly.

We believe that gene editing of farm animals should not be permitted other than in the most exceptional circumstances where an impact assessment shows that:

  • There will be no detrimental impact on animal health and welfare
  • No less intrusive method of achieving the desired objective is available
  • The desired objective does not entail entrenching factory farming.

Read and download the Genome editing and farmed animal breeding: social and ethical issues report


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