Examination of Witnesses

Part of Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 28th June 2022.

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Joanna Lewis:

You asked whether you can separate the intention of gene editing to solve animal welfare problems from the broader challenge of facilitating the perpetuation of systems that result in very poor animal welfare. I think it is important that we bring these together—as the public brought them together in the Nuffield Council on Bioethics public dialogue. We know that conventional animal breeding trends have been to prioritise greater yield, litter size and fast growth over the welfare of sentient animals, and we know that the argument for gene editing is partly that it speeds things up and is likely, therefore, to accelerate those trends. The public were saying, through that dialogue, that this is where they want to see governance. They want the Government to come in and say, “This is our vision for the future of animal farming. This is how it is going to become a higher welfare system that also delivers for climate, nature and health. This is the role we want to see gene editing play in that context.”

I know that you will be hearing evidence from Compassion in World Farming on Thursday, and I know that amendments will be proposed to try to make sure that there are additional tests—which could be linked to the Secretary of State’s powers, secondary regulation or the role of the welfare advisory body—on whether these traits are going to focus on yield, litter size and fast growth and cause lasting harm to the welfare of the animal. Also, are they going to perpetuate, facilitate or enable a farming system that is very detrimental to the welfare of animals? Those are the amendments that will be coming through from animal welfare bodies.