null The Government is set to approve gene editing in farm animals and we're extremely worried

The Government is set to approve gene editing in farm animals and we're extremely worried

There are serious welfare and ethical issues surrounding the practice of gene editing which could threaten generations of farm animals and we're concerned.

Reports suggest we could see products from gene edited animals in supermarkets within five years

rspca sheepIt was reported today that the Government will respond to a consultation on the issue at the end of the month and intends to repeal inherited EU laws governing the use of this practice in England.

It has been suggested that this could see products from gene edited animals on our supermarket shelves within five years.

We're calling on the Government to rethink this proposal. We strongly believe gene editing could have potentially significant consequences for animal welfare. Our Chief Executive, Chris Sherwood, said:

This is extremely worrying news. We have serious concerns about gene editing and its implications for animals. The impact of altering an animal's genetic material is very unpredictable and we simply do not know the long-term consequences. This means that there is a real risk of welfare problems being passed on to generations of animals.

The Government claims that gene editing could provide the answer to more sustainable and efficient farming, healthier food, reduced environmental impact, reduced disease and a reduction in reliance on antibiotics. All these issues are critically important but not enough is yet known about gene editing to suggest this is a solution to these issues.

This practice could result in creating a whole new set of welfare and ethical problems, with the risk of animals being pushed beyond their biological limits or the further intensification of farming systems. Pushing ahead with this at this stage also risks losing the trust and confidence of the public.

If the Government is about to allow this potentially harmful technology to be applied to farm animals, it conflicts with the ambitions of its 'Animal Welfare Action Plan' that was launched by Defra just this year.

We believe there are more ethical ways to solve these issues, such as reducing waste and improving stockmanship, 'eat less, eat better' - reducing our reliance on the consumption of animal products, and moving away from intensive farming.

Leaving the EU has provided an opportunity to set the highest standards of welfare and we feel that allowing gene editing would be a serious step backwards for welfare. It also calls into question British exports of food to the EU which has a strict ban on imports of gene edited food.

The current UK Government consultation on this issue proposes relaxing the rules on gene editing, which could see the production of gene edited (GE) farm animals permitted in England, and GE products sold in Great Britain because they would no longer be defined as GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).

Seven reasons we're concerned about gene editing

Our experts have numerous serious concerns about this process:

  1. There's no history of safe and reliable use of GE in farm animals.
  2. Genetic technologies have been proven to cause unpredictable and unintended changes to the genome.
  3. Not enough is known about the medium to long term effects on animal health and welfare.
  4. The current rules and regulations around GMOs are still essential for regulating GEs until there is more proof of use - now is not the time to consider changing these.
  5. There are alternative approaches to achieving the proposed benefits of genetic technologies e.g improving animal husbandry and reducing food waste, with huge amounts of all meat and animal products produced globally lost or wasted every year.
  6. GE products have been withdrawn from approval in the USA following the Regulator's concerns on the transfer of other genes during the GE process.
  7. GE produced food could be forced onto supermarket shelves in Scotland and Wales despite those countries objecting to its production and sale.

Most consumers do not want to see these products in shops

Previous consultations have shown that most consumers do not want to see these products on their shelves. If GE animals are no longer classified as GMOs, there will be no mandatory requirement to label products made from them.

This would remove all choice from the consumer which is particularly concerning for those who wish to shop responsibly and promote better animal welfare through their purchasing decisions.

We have been campaigning against the introduction of gene editing and so far 6114 people have written to the government to express their concerns. Chris added:

We are incredibly worried about relaxing the rules around these procedures and that, under the current proposals, this would shockingly also see farm animals categorised with, and only given the same level of consideration as, farmed crops.

There is a real risk that consumers would be buying food that has been produced in a non-ethical way, and maybe unaware of its origins if not properly labelled. This is of particular concern given we are living in a time when people are being asked to 'Eat Less, Eat Better' and to pay careful consideration to where their food is coming from. We don't believe consumers will stand for this.

Animals could suffer for the making of products that will be rejected

There is also great public concern around 'naturalness', and little public appetite for GE animal products. This means that animals could suffer unnecessarily to develop food products that will be rejected by the public. 

We believe that the UK Government should be aiming for farm animals to be reared to higher animal welfare standards post-Brexit and they should also consider their duty to protect the consumer and label products produced in this way to enable people to shop ethically if they wish.

In Wales, the Welsh Government has not yet made any moves to permit gene editing of farm animals - instead acknowledging "considerable debate in the scientific community" and favouring a precautionary approach based on science.

However, even if the Welsh Government does not allow the production of gene edited foods, they would likely be unable to stop them appearing in shops in Wales due to new rules under the UK's Internal Market Act. we hope the Welsh Government will adopt a strong policy against gene edited foods - and highlight the issues for animal welfare posed by such consequences of the Internal Market Act.

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