Responding to a statement from RSPCA which described the Government’s Gene Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, introduced recently in Westminster, as a “serious step backwards” for animal welfare, the recently launched Bill Science for Sustainable Agriculture (SSA) claimed that the reverse was in fact the case.
The group argued that it would be unethical not to harness the potential of technologies such as gene editing to help improve sustainable, high-welfare production in farmed animals. .
“Precision breeding technologies can help accelerate the development of major health and welfare traits, such as resistance to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) in pigs and resistance to avian influenza in poultry,” the group said.
Professor Lord Trees, interbank peer and former president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, warned that a failure to adopt more precise breeding technologies such as gene editing could be a missed opportunity to make significant improvements in animal health and welfare.
“Disease is arguably the biggest welfare issue in farm animal husbandry, and gene editing offers the potential to accelerate the development of disease-resistant breeds,” he said. said, adding that the adoption of the technology could reduce the use of drugs and chemicals, with positive effects for the problems. such as antimicrobial resistance and environmental pollution.
Other welfare-beneficial applications included the potential to aid in sex determination, obviating the need to slaughter male chicks or dairy calves, Professor Lord Trees added.
“We have strict animal welfare regulations in place for farmed animals, regardless of how they were raised, as well as other legislation covering research and development,” a- he declared. “These existing regulations rightly focus on welfare outcomes, rather than any particular breeding method.”
Professor Helen Sang, a scientist at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh who pioneered the use of gene editing in research to develop resistance to bird flu in chickens, said blocking such research would be detrimental to animal welfare.
“It is simply wrong to claim that there are more ethical or humane ways to address these previously intractable and devastating health issues affecting animals raised in all types of farming systems,” said Professor Sang, who has offered to meet the group and explain the science behind the approach.
“Regulatory safeguards are already in place to maintain high standards of welfare – from initial research to on-farm production. The Precision Farming Bill also includes provisions for additional welfare assessments applied specifically to genetically modified animals, so from a scientific perspective it is difficult to understand the RSPCA’s position. .
An SSA spokesperson said it aims to defend and explain the vital role of science and technology in safeguarding the world’s food supply, combating climate change and protecting the environment natural.
“The SSA is also prepared to expose, comment on and challenge unscientific policy positions or decisions regarding sustainable agriculture,” the spokesperson added.