Genome editing and farmed animals

Current Project

Current in-depth inquiry

Cow in field flipped

Online public dialogue: genome editing in farmed animals

Applications are now closed

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics invites tenders to deliver an online public dialogue on genome editing in farmed animals.

As part of this work, we want to engage members of the public in a deliberative dialogue to explore what they feel are the main considerations that should determine how genome editing is used in farmed animals. Our hope is to create an opportunity for their views to inform the thinking of the Council and the wider policy debate.


Dialogue title: Online public dialogue on genome editing in farmed animals

Commissioning body: Nuffield Council on Bioethics

Aim: To engage members of the public in a deliberative dialogue to ‘identify and explore the priority issues of public interest raised by genome editing in farmed animals’ to inform the evolving policy debate, design, and regulatory reform of genetic technologies.

Timescales and key dates: 4 months; May-August 2021 (commissioning, delivery, and reporting)

Closing date for applications: 19 April 2021

Interviews: 30 April 2021

Contractor confirmed: 30 April 2021

Initial findings reported: 16 July 2021

Final written report: 10 August 2021

Cost: Tenders invited in the range of £50,000

Download the specification / invitation to tender.

1. Introduction and background

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics (NCoB) is an independent body that informs policy and public debate about the ethical questions raised by biological and medical research.

NCoB is currently running a two-year inquiry into the ethical and social issues raised by genome editing in farmed animals. As part of this work, NCoB is commissioning a rapid public deliberative dialogue on genome editing in farmed animals (including fish).

Genome editing of farmed animals is one of the most near-term, but least discussed applications of the technology. It has a range of potential applications in farmed animal breeding although some applications have given rise to significant concerns about possible impacts on animal welfare and farming practices.

Successive British governments since 2016 have indicated that the UK should seek opportunities for the development and innovation of agricultural technologies for genetically engineered food and animal products.

2. Rationale for the dialogue

The case for a public dialogue activity on genome editing technologies gained strategic and policy relevance with the UK’s departure from the EU, with policy shifts and regulatory changes holding out the promise of a more facilitative approach to genomic biotechnologies.

Following the passage of the Agriculture Bill last year, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched a two-part consultation on the regulation of genetic technologies in agriculture and aquaculture in January 2021. This seeks to gather views on (1) the status of a subset of genome edited organisms (those that could have come about as a result of ‘traditional’ breeding), specifically whether they should be regulated as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and (2) the revision of GMO regulation in the longer term, specifically what measures may be needed over and above those for non-genetically modified organisms. The consultation implicitly foregrounds the question of product safety in relation to animals.

The launch of Defra’s consultation has led to several calls for an informed and nuanced public debate for this new generation of biotechnologies. Public attitudes towards GMOs have played a significant role in the reception of agricultural biotechnologies in the past and have significant potential to influence the course of realising the real-world benefits from genome-editing-based research and innovation.

As part of its ongoing inquiry, NCoB commissioned a literature review on public perceptions and attitudes relating to genetic technologies in animals and food. The review has found that there has been relatively little engagement with the public on the use of genome editing in farmed animals, but there is some evidence that attitudes to GMOs and novel foods may be shifting or becoming more nuanced. Most evidence, however, is from quantitative research; the review indicates that there would be value in a deliberative exercise to explore the complex and interacting factors underlying and shaping public attitudes for the next generation of technologies, and to evaluate the weight and significance of the different factors.

3. Aims of the dialogue

The dialogue will offer an opportunity for diverse citizens to come together to distinguish, define and evaluate the main considerations for biotechnology policy.

The dialogue aims to:

  • Engage members of the public in a deliberative dialogue to identify and define key issues with genome editing in animals farmed for food and provide insight into the considerations that citizens find relevant to the application of these technologies.
  • Enable citizens to contribute to the wider public debate on genome editing by moving it beyond the binary of pro- or anti- opposition framing to consider other dimensions of the debate.

The findings from the dialogue will be used to:

  1. Inform NCoB’s ongoing inquiry into genome editing in farmed animals, and contribute to the follow-up activities for this project.
  2. Help focus and shape a major public dialogue on themes arising in the context of genome editing of farmed animals, with scope to expand to broader agricultural applications, to explore points of consensus and dissensus.
  3. Inform research strategy and regulatory policy development in relation to the broader question of GEO/GMO/biotechnology regulation in a post-Brexit UK.

4. Objectives of the dialogue

The objectives of the dialogue are to:

  • Provide a vital opportunity for citizens to frame their approach to genome editing technologies in animals according to the considerations they think are most significant.
  • Explore and understand participants’ responses in relation to the adoption of genome editing technologies in farmed animals.
  • To identify areas of greatest public interest and concern with the application of new genomic technologies in farmed animals and explore citizens’ assumptions about the key issues identified.
  • Disentangle and delineate the complex factors influencing public attitudes and interests.
  • Understand the values and principles that underlie dialogue participants’ views, and map these and the concepts, arguments, and language relevant to public discussion of genome editing and farmed animals.
  • Share findings of this dialogue to inform current and future research, regulatory, industry and farming practices, and policy debates.

The dialogue will be commissioned by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. NCoB will appoint the preferred applicant (‘the Contractor’) to undertake the dialogue set out in this specification.

NCoB supports the guiding principles for public dialogue on science and technology related issues as identified by the UKRI Sciencewise programme. Applicants should be guided by these principles as best practice in public engagement in their tender proposals.

Download the specification / invitation to tender.