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Public dialogue to explore views on gene editing

A consultation in the UK will investigate public concerns and hopes related to changing the DNA of farmed animals.

Gene-edited pigs on a farm
Roslin researchers produced pigs that are resistant to a deadly virus.

A public dialogue on genome editing in farmed animals could help to shape responsible research and innovation as the technologies develop.

The consultation, which will involve around 80 members of the public between May and July, has been announced by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC),  part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, with the support of UKRI’s Sciencewise programme.

It will be overseen by an advisory group involving scientists from the Roslin Institute, chaired by Sarah Mukherjee MBE, CEO of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment and a former BBC Environment Correspondent, and run by Basis Social, a social research consultancy.

The dialogue follows the publication of a Nuffield Council on Bioethics report on the social and ethical issues associated with genome editing and farmed animal breeding.

This report recommended early, open and informed dialogue in anticipation of gene editing being introduced into food and farming systems.

Precise DNA changes

Gene editing is the precise, targeted alteration of DNA in a living cell. It enables changes, which aim to secure certain physical traits in new generations of farmed animals, to be made faster and with greater precision than other types of genetic technologies or traditional breeding methods.

In the UK, genome editing techniques are not currently used in breeding animals that are sold for food, but research in this area is advanced, and some gene-edited animals have been approved for consumption in other parts of the world.

For instance, Roslin researchers produced pigs that are resistant to a deadly virus that causes Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) and costs the pig industry more than £1.75 billion per year in the US and Europe alone.

The Roslin Institute is a world leader in gene editing of farmed animals, with a Large Animal Research and Imaging Facility that significantly enhances our ability to conduct comprehensive studies towards better animal health, welfare and sustainability. This public dialogue is fundamental to understand how people see these technologies and their impact on the future of food.

Dr Chris ProudfootLarge Animal Academic Liaison, Roslin Institute

BBSRC is pleased to be supporting new public dialogue in this crucial policy area. The UK has outstanding expertise in animal bioscience, and we welcome the opportunity to have a wide-ranging public dialogue which will enable a deeper exploration of views and help inform associated policies.”

Professor Melanie WelhamExecutive Chair, BBSRC

As the Government considers next steps for regulation of genetic breeding technologies, there is a real opportunity now to ensure that policy making in this area is aligned with public interests. Last year, Basis Social worked with us on a rapid dialogue to help identify public hopes and fears about these technologies, which fed into our influential report ‘Genome editing and farmed animal breeding: ethical and social issues’. We are pleased to be taking forward this debate with UKRI-BBSRC and Sciencewise, and working with Basis Social again, to further explore public perspectives on the future of our food and farming system.

Danielle HammDirector, Nuffield Council on Bioethics

** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from the BBSRC and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

Related links

Gene editing plus vaccines could eradicate disease

Gene-edited pigs are resistant to billion dollar virus, study finds

Report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics