The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill and native livestock breeds

For the Government to suggest that gene editing is not that different to traditional breeding is nonsense; the two are significantly different. Gene editing is an entirely laboratory-based process depending on significant human intervention and aimed at achieving quick results. This is a world away from conventional breeding grounded in sexual reproduction over many generations.

In reality, gene editing is far closer to genetic modification (GM). EU Law defines a GM organism as one in which “the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination” This is clearly a description of gene editing as much as of mainstream GM.

It may be true that meddling with animal genetics in a lab has the potential to bring about improvements in health and welfare, such as by increasing immunity to diseases or reducing the ability to feel pain. But this is to miss the point that most of the problems that gene editing seeks to address are manmade, resulting from industrial intensive farming systems, with animals being kept in artificial systems at high densities.

But gene editing is not the solution to any of this, it just serves to perpetuate the status quo. 

Our native livestock breeds, on the other hand, were bred to thrive in our landscape. As a result, if the right breed is kept in the right place, at the right density, its health and welfare needs will almost inevitably be met with minimal need for any intervention. The problems gene editing seeks to address simply do not occur in the way they do with intensive systems.

Accordingly, if we want high welfare farming, with a low environmental impact, it makes far more sense for government to focus on encouraging regenerative agroecological systems. It is only if we continue with industrialised intensive farming that we need gene editing.