Genetically Modified Breeding: Strong Rules Needed Before Approval, Ethicists Say | Farm animals

Strict regulations must be in place to protect farm animal welfare before genome editing procedures are approved for commercial livestock, ethicists have warned.

Powerful gene-editing techniques have the potential to improve modern agriculture by making animals resistant to heat and disease, reducing methane emissions and increasing productivity, but the same approaches could also exacerbate the problems. animal welfare issues, according to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

Although farms have yet to embrace animal genome editing, its potential in agriculture has led to intense research efforts around the world, leading to laboratory animals that demonstrate the viability of the approach. . In September, the British government announced that it would introduce legislation that would pave the way for the authorization of certain genome modifications in animal breeding.

“There is a need to ensure that animal welfare is at the heart of plans to introduce genome editing in farm animal husbandry,” said Danielle Hamm, director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

In a report on the social and ethical issues associated with genome editing in farm animals, ethicists describe how genome editing could bring real benefits, for example by making pigs resistant to the reproductive syndrome virus and common porcine respiratory tract (PRRS), or by preventing animals from growing horns that injure others around them.

But other applications could have a major impact on animal welfare, they warn. Elizabeth Cripps, co-author of the report and senior lecturer in political theory at the University of Edinburgh, said a particular concern was the creation of animals that could tolerate poor conditions without apparently having a negative impact about health. “It could mask the effect that they continue to live in unacceptable conditions,” she said. Another serious concern was the possibility of raising animals which are no longer physiologically capable of having “a good life”.

Ethicists call for “urgent” public debate before genome editing is approved for commercial breeding, and for an independent body to work with breeders and oversee a “traffic light system” that ranks good -be farm animals. Under the program, green would mean animals can live a good life in a well-managed breeding system, amber would mean continued breeding can threaten animal welfare, and red would indicate animal welfare. animals that do not have an acceptable quality of life and should not be used in commercial agriculture.

Bruce Whitelaw, professor of animal biotechnology at the Roslin Institute where Dolly the Sheep was created, said genome editing has a lot to offer agriculture. “We have already shown that this technology can reduce the disease burden in livestock by producing pigs in Roslin that are resistant to the PRRS virus. If this demand progresses towards the farm, it will have benefits for the welfare of the animals on that farm, ”he said. “Now is the time to have a dialogue to explore how we can use genome editing to benefit agriculture and our food supply. From this, appropriate incentives can be identified that will lead to fair and responsible breeding. “

Katrien Devolder of the Oxford Uehiro Center for Practical Ethics said: “Ideally, we would reform farming practices, rather than modifying animals to make them suitable. But if we cannot achieve the ideal, the best option may be to continue genome editing while taking steps to reform factory farming. For example, we could combine genome editing with higher taxes for meat, eggs, and dairy products from factory farms, or with structural support for lab-grown meat production, or alternative farming practices and more durable.

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