Public wants wider public debate on gene editing in livestock

The public has called for the government to take a cautious approach to introducing gene editing in the livestock sector.

The government’s Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, which paves the way for the use of the technology in England, is currently progressing through parliament.

In a bid to help shape the policy, members of the public were invited by scientific researchers to share views with experts in dialogue sessions.

See also: NFU upbeat as gene editing bill progresses through parliament

Overall, the participants wanted a wider public debate on gene editing.

They expressed a need for greater clarity on the government’s overall plan for food and farming to help them understand how the new technology fitted in, its impacts, and what was the potential value of animal gene editing.

Participants also expressed a desire for policymakers to consider alternative approaches to addressing food and farming challenges, rather than automatically privileging gene editing.

Others expressed concerns that gene editing should not just support the interests of commercial producers, but should be directed at promoting animal welfare and other outcomes that benefit the public interest.

Regulation was deemed to be an important part of this process, by ensuring applications had a wider value than merely profit alone.

Public dialogue

The dialogue sessions were organised by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the government’s UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) body.

Danielle Hamm, director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, urged the government to listen to the findings.

“With the bill currently going through parliament, this is a crucial moment for policymakers to listen to the important public perspectives that have emerged during this dialogue.

“It has demonstrated their appetite for dialogue and ability to get to grips with this subject matter,” Ms Hamm said.

Pat Thomas, director of campaign group Beyond GM, was also involved in the dialogue sessions.

“To anyone who has been listening to views on the government’s plans for deregulating genetically engineered plants and animals, the conclusions of this very thorough public dialogue are no surprise,” said Ms Thomas.

“Nuffield, BBSRC and UKRI are to be congratulated for keeping faith with what was uncovered in these dialogues and not trying to spin it.

“There is an integrity and an intelligence to these findings that our regulators would do well to take on board,” she added.

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