Genome editing and farmed animals

Current Project

Current in-depth inquiry

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In January 2019, we began an inquiry into the potential development of genome editing applications in farmed animals. This was identified as one of the two areas that requires urgent ethical scrutiny in our 2016 report, Genome editing: an ethical review (the first was genome editing in human reproduction, which resulted in a report published July 2018).

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.

Due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic we have postponed publication of this inquiry, we now expect to publish our findings in 2021.

Public dialogue

As part of this project, we have been working with BASIS Social to develop a public dialogue to explore people's views on the ethical implications of genome editing in farmed animals. We will be holding three online deliberative workshops with a group of 42 participants from across the UK with urban, rural, coastal representation, gender, age, ethnic, faith, socio-economic, and geographical diversity, with varied dietary preferences and differing attitudes to the use of genetic technologies.

The findings of the dialogue will inform our inquiry and be a key part of the policy work we undertake following its conclusion. We expect the findings to stimulate further public debate and to inform research strategy and regulatory policy in a post-Brexit UK, by feeding into Defra’s broader review of the regulation of genetic technologies.

Project team

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Pete Mills

Assistant Director

Pete is part of the senior management team. He is responsible for leading Council projects and inquiries and speaking on behalf the Council on a range of ethical issues. Before joining the Council in 2011, he worked on scientific development and bioethics at the Department of Health, where he led the Human Genetics Commission, and on assisted reproduction and embryo research policy for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority

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Arzoo Ahmed

Research Officer

Arzoo is undertaking research as part of the Council’s active response programme and working on the genome editing in farmed animals project. Prior to joining the Council, Arzoo was director at the Centre for Islam and Medicine and a research associate at the Office for Public Management. Arzoo is completing an MA in philosophy at King’s College London, and graduated with a BA in Physics and an MPhil in Medieval Arabic Thought from the University of Oxford.