Genome editing and livestock

In 2018 the Council will begin work on an inquiry into potential uses of genome editing in farmed animals.  This includes livestock reared as part of the human food chain and to provide other products for human consumption but will not include laboratory animals.  The potential development of genome editing applications in animal husbandry was one of the areas that require urgent ethical scrutiny identified in our 2016 report Genome editing: an ethical review. We will be seeking a wide range of input to support this work.

The working group examining the issues raised by genome editing in livestock will be chaired by John Dupre, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Exeter. Professor Dupre, commented on the project:

“Genome editing calls into question the distinction between genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and non-GMO foods, which are regulated quite differently at present. In our inquiry on livestock we want to look at the issues from the starting point of the societal challenge that we face in feeding a growing world population and ask whether and how new genome technologies should contribute to meeting that challenge. We will be seeking views from a wide range of people to inform our deliberations and recommendations”.  

Background on genome editing in livestock

Genome editing in animals such as pigs, sheep, cattle and chickens is an area where genome editing techniques have not just accelerated research but have opened up completely new areas of research that could have significant societal, economic and political implications.

Research is being carried out to find new ways to intensify food production sustainably in order to feed a growing world population, for example, by increasing animal meat yield or reproductive capacity, or improving disease resistance and environmental adaptation in intensively reared animals.

Genome editing in animals gives a fresh impetus for considering questions raised by previous genetic technologies for human consumption, including product safety, animal health and welfare, and the most appropriate ways to meet societal challenges such as food security.

Previous work

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Nuffield Council on Bioethics
28 Bedford Square

+44 (0)20 7681 9619

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