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5 heads of cattle

Robust regulations must be put in place to protect the welfare of farmed animals before genome-editing procedures are approved for commercial livestock, ethicists have warned.

Powerful gene-editing techniques have the potential to improve modern farming by making animals resistant to heat and disease, reducing methane emissions and increasing productivity, but the same approaches could also exacerbate animal welfare problems, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics says.

Though farms have yet to embrace genome editing for animals, its potential in agriculture has driven intense research efforts around the world, leading to experimental animals that demonstrate the viability of the approach. In September, the UK government announced it would bring forward legislation that would pave the way for some genome editing to be allowed in animal breeding.

“There is a need to ensure animal welfare is at the heart of plans to introduce genome editing into farmed animal breeding,” said Danielle Hamm, the director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

In a report on the social and ethical issues associated with genome editing in farm animals, the ethicists describe how genome editing could... see more