Clause 11 - Application for precision bred animal marketing authorisation

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 5th July 2022.

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Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:15 pm, 5th July 2022

I beg to move amendment 13, in clause 11, page 8, line 25, leave out “negative” and insert “affirmative”.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause stand part.

Amendment 4, in clause 12, page 8, line 28, at end insert—

“(1A) The welfare advisory body must carry out an assessment of the likely impact of any precision bred trait referred to in the application on the health and welfare of the relevant animal and its qualifying progeny.

(1B) In carrying out an assessment under subsection (2) the welfare advisory body must consider—

(a) scientific expertise on the health and welfare of animals with similar traits (whether or not resulting from the application of modern biotechnology) to those of the animal in respect of which an application for a precision bred animal marketing authorisation has been made;

(b) the animal welfare declaration provided by the notifier under subsection (3) of section 11 and the assessment, explanation and information provided under subsection (4) of section 11; and

(c) any other matter it considers appropriate.”

Amendment 5, in clause 12, page 8, line 28, at end insert—

“(1A) Where the purpose of a precision bred trait referred to in the application includes achieving fast growth, high yields or any other increase in productivity, the welfare advisory body must in preparing a report under subsection (2)—

(a) consider whether animals or their progeny with similar traits resulting from selective breeding or traditional processes have experienced pain, suffering or lasting harm arising from or connected with fast growth, high yields or any other increase in productivity, and

(b) assess whether the relevant animal and its qualifying progeny are also likely to experience pain, suffering or lasting harm arising from or connected with fast growth, high yields or any other increase in productivity.”

Amendment 6, in clause 12, page 8, line 28, at end insert—

“(1A) In preparing a report under subsection (2) the welfare advisory body must consider whether the precision bred traits may facilitate the keeping of the relevant animal or its qualifying progeny in conditions that may have an adverse effect on animal welfare.”

Amendment 7, in clause 12, page 8, line 30, at end insert—

“(za) the likely impact of the precision bred traits on the health and welfare of the relevant animal and its qualifying progeny,

(zb) whether the relevant animal and its qualifying progeny are likely to experience pain, suffering or lasting harm arising from or connected with fast growth, high yields or any other increase in productivity,

(zc) whether the precision bred traits may facilitate the keeping of the relevant animal or its qualifying progeny in conditions that are likely to have an adverse effect on animal welfare,”.

Amendment 35, in clause 12, page 8, line 40, at end insert—

“(d) whether the health or welfare of the parents, grandparents or great grandparents of the qualifying progeny of the relevant animal may reasonably be expected to be adversely affected by the precision bred trait.”

This amendment would require the welfare advisory body to report on the likely effects of a precision bred trait on breeding stock.

Amendment 36, in clause 12, page 8, line 40, at end insert—

“(2A) In its report under subsection (2) the welfare advisory body must take into account direct and indirect effects and intended and unintended effects of the precision bred trait on the health and welfare of—

(a) the relevant animal and its qualifying progeny, and

(b) the parents, grandparents or great grandparents of the qualifying progeny.”

This amendment would require the welfare advisory body to take into account direct and indirect, and both intended and unintended, effects of the precision bred trait on the animal and its qualifying progeny and on breeding stock.

Clause 12 stand part.

Amendment 8, in clause 13, page 9, line 20, at end insert—

“(za) that the precision bred traits will not have an adverse effect on the health or welfare of the relevant animal or its qualifying progeny,

(zb) that the precision bred traits will not facilitate the keeping of the relevant animal or its qualifying progeny in conditions that are likely to have an adverse effect on animal welfare,

(zc) that any precision bred trait could not reasonably have been achieved by means that do not involve modification of the genome of the animal,”.

This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State issuing a precision bred animal marketing authorisation unless satisfied on the health or welfare effects listed and that the precision bred trait could not reasonably have been achieved by means that do not involve modification of the genome of the animal.

Clause 13 stand part.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We have quite a complicated set of amendments and clauses before us, so I will try to take them in turn—[Interruption.]

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

Order. Can we keep the noise down?

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The measures all refer to the animal legislation, which, as we said at the beginning, we are not convinced was sufficiently developed. Nevertheless, we have some detail here so it is worth looking closely at what is proposed. Unfortunately, a lot is, again, left to secondary legislation under the negative procedure; given the likely interest in this topic, which I have mentioned often today, that gives us cause for concern.

Clause 11 concerns applications for precision bred animal marketing authorisations. Among the clause’s provisions is some pretty thinly laid out information about the associated requirements. A person who wishes to put a precision bred organism to market will have to apply to the Secretary of State for permission, and their application must include

“a declaration that the notifier does not expect the health or welfare of the relevant animal or its qualifying progeny to be adversely affected…by any precision bred trait”.

Ignoring for now the fact that, in our view, the Bill does not define what it considers to be adverse effects—I will come to that later—that is clearly pretty important to animal welfare.

The clause also states that an application for marketing authorisation “must be accompanied” by an animal welfare risk assessment, an

“an explanation of the steps that the notifier has taken to identify” any risks, and any other required information. That is all fine, but Committee members will remember some of the points made in the evidence sessions about the findings of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ public dialogue in respect of the public’s concern about genetic editing being applied to animals. Similarly, Professor Sarah Hartley spoke persuasively about the importance of getting the regulation right on this issue.

It is concerning that the clause contains such key provisions on animal welfare but the precise form and content of the information to be provided is left to secondary legislation. I still have several questions and, given the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, the Government have not taken the opportunity to publish draft statutory instruments and have not included detailed information on the provisions in the impact assessment, we are trying to proceed without knowing much detail.

Ultimately, the applications will be considered by the welfare advisory body, but it is not at all clear how that body will make its decisions, what its terms of reference will be and, frankly, who will serve on it. That is rather important. It is not clear what evidence the body’s decisions will be based on. We have already gone around the loop in respect of who the appropriate people are a few times today; I say gently to the Minister that in my experience as shadow Minister it is sometimes pretty painful to try to find out from the outside about some of the detailed questions in respect of how decisions are arrived at.

Let me give the example of the issue relating to neonicotinoids a few months ago. It was a very important decision, with considerable public interest and the same kind of set-up, with expert committees meeting, and there was an issue as to whether the advice was in the public domain. I think it took a freedom of information request from an advocacy organisation to get the advice. The Secretary of State was entitled to take his decision on the basis of that advice, but it was very hard for people to see what it was.

The point is that it seems to me that the Government are creating a similarly obscure set of processes that will take us down the road to the same difficulties, because it will be hard for the wider public or those who are particularly interested in such issues to get to the root of how decisions are made and on what basis. In the end, the problem with that is that it feeds public mistrust, because if people cannot see how the decision is made and on what basis, people will jump to conclusions that may well not be justified. The Government should be a bit more confident about these processes. We know that there is always an element of judgment in such decisions, and trade-offs, but if that happens without the information being shared with other people, people will inevitably be suspicious. That is why we are concerned about the process.

I shall move on. Clause 12 lays out further details on the reports that the welfare advisory body will be required to make in its consideration of an application for a precision bred animal marketing authorisation. It states that the welfare advisory body will have to determine whether the notifier, in its animal welfare declaration, has paid regard to the risks to an animal due to a precision bred trait, and whether the notifier has taken reasonable steps to assess those risks. All those things are fine, but they are all loaded phrases. Depending on how those things are phrased, any judgment made in reaching a decision will be different.

The Opposition do not think there is nearly enough detail in there, and that is why we have tabled a number of amendments. We are trying to set out through our amendments some of the processes and frameworks that we think the Government should have set out. It may be that the Government will do that, but we are not going to have an opportunity to test that.

Amendment 4 would require the welfare advisory body to undertake its own assessment of the potential impact of a precision bred trait on the health and welfare of an animal and its qualifying progeny. Part of the problem here is that without knowing much about what this body will be and what resources will be available to it, there is a concern that all it is doing is taking a proposal, written by an applicant, and making a judgment on the basis of what it has been told. It may well be that it would need to check some of the evidence presented to it.

This goes back to the questions we were discussing earlier around how much trust and good faith there is. In an ideal world, everybody would be making a submission and it would all be perfect—there would be no attempt to hide anything. However, I am not convinced that is what happens in the real world. People, quite understandably, want to get their application through, so they will present it in the best possible way. The new body needs to be able to interrogate that properly.

This is not always a benign world. It has come to my attention that some of the major players in this space are no longer entirely run from the UK. Some of them are Chinese-owned; I make no comment other than to point out that that fact clearly bothers some Members of this House in other contexts. We have to ask whether we are entirely sure that the evidence presented to the Committee can be taken at face value. If we want to interrogate that more thoroughly, how would we do that? We do not have any answers in the Bill as it stands. It is only right that we point that out.

Amendment 5 would require the advisory body to assess the welfare impact on animals where a precision bred trait is developed with the aim of achieving fast growth, high yields or other increased in productivity. That refers back to a discussion my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East had earlier; we know through traditional selective breeding that we have produced creatures that are highly efficient and effective in terms of food production, but there are genuine concerns about the welfare characteristics of some of the poultry and cows. The question is: if we can take it further and further, how far do we go? We think it is reasonable that the body should be able to assess that welfare impact as well. It is not clear to us that this would be part of the process. I am sure there are other safeguards in place that will allow that to happen, but we think that it would be better to include that in the Bill.

Amendment 7 effectively adds to that. Amendment 35 requires the welfare advisory body to consider welfare impacts on breeding stock. That is a further ramification; if we begin to develop animals in certain kinds of ways, I am advised that it can have an impact on breeding stock. With all those amendments, we are drawing out that there are potentially unforeseen and possibly unintended consequences to such developments, which we think should be addressed properly.

Amendment 36 requires the welfare advisory body to consider direct and indirect intended and unintended impacts in all these circumstances. It will probably not come as a surprise to hear that we have been informed in our thinking on these issues by Compassion in World Farming. I take its concerns seriously. It has highlighted that the Bill only really considers the impacts on health and welfare of the precision bred animal and its progeny, but it argues that the experience of selective breeding shows that altering an animal’s traits might have an unexpected impact on the health and welfare of the breeding flocks that produce future generations of the animal. In its view, those should be safeguarded too, and I rather agree.

In addition, many of the effects of selective breeding, as I have outlined, have been unintended. They include the susceptibility of hens bred for high egg yields to bone fractures and, indirectly, the inability of male turkeys bred to achieve heavy weights and a high proportion of breast meat to mate naturally. What we are saying—this is borne out a bit by the excellent work of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics—is that the system we have created through traditional selective breeding poses a range of problems and challenges. This technology could exacerbate those issues, and therefore we need to look at it carefully.

Finally, clause 13 concerns the issue of precision bred animal marketing authorisation. We would amend the Bill to tidy up that section with amendment 8, which specifies that the Secretary of State can issue precision bred marketing authorisation only if satisfied that there will be no adverse health or welfare impacts on the animal.

I am afraid that there are rather a lot of amendments relating to a number of clauses. We do not intend to divide on all of them, although on some of them I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response before we get into that particular set of complications.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:30 pm, 5th July 2022

I thank the hon. Gentleman, because animal welfare is close to all our hearts. It is something that this Government—indeed, any Government—need to be cognisant of, and I am proud that we have a strong record of supporting and improving it. With the animal health and welfare pathway, we have laid out where we intend to go further.

I will take the eight amendments in turn. The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I do not feel that amendment 13 is necessary. The purpose of this part of the Bill is to create the regulatory framework for the approval of marketing authorisations for precision bred animals. I assure all Members that we propose to work closely with the industry, expert groups, scientific advisers, non-governmental organisations and all other stakeholders on the development of that technical detail. I think the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is important that all those voices are heard, and that we work on that technical detail with everyone.

For the animal welfare declaration, that will include setting out metrics and the evidence that is necessary to accompany it. As part of that work, we will commission—indeed, we are commissioning—further evidence through independent research, and we will draw on our animal welfare advisory board. Once the technical details are designed, they will be set out in secondary legislation and guidance will be provided. They will benefit from co-design with those expertise and stakeholders. That is important to ensure we get this right.

We want to enable, rather than hamper, innovation while ensuring that animal welfare requirements are fully regarded and adhered to. We believe the amendment to clause 11 is not needed because it would cover only administrative and technical details. I hope the hon. Gentleman feels reassured that, in order to get to the right conclusion, we are trying to do this openly and transparently with all those who need to have their voices heard.

In essence, the clause signals to science and innovators, who are at the forefront, that the Government support the adoption of beneficial modern technologies and that they should have confidence moving forward. However, we recognise that as well as enabling innovation to keep pace with new and beneficial technologies, we must continue to uphold the high standards of animal welfare.

Clause 11explains the application process for precision bred animal marketing authorisations, which will be required, in addition to the precision-bred confirmation, which we have already debated when we considered clauses 6 to 9. It is a crucial part of the Bill, as it sets out a new framework for the new system, to ensure that the health and welfare impacts on animals from precision breeding are assessed by a body of operationally independent subject experts—the welfare advisory body—before animals can be marketed.

We do not expect to implement these measures quickly. The technical and administrative details of this new system will be carefully developed with stakeholder input. As a result, we intend that the provisions of this Bill relating to the marketing of relevant animals will be brought into force after those relating to precision-bred plants.

Clause 11 further explains that the application to obtain a precision bred animal marketing authorisation is made to the Secretary of State, and it must be accompanied by an animal welfare declaration. This will be a declaration, with supporting evidence, stating that the notifier does not expect the health or welfare of the relevant animal or its qualifying progeny to be adversely affected by any precision bred trait. That is why it is important to be broad in that discussion, because I take on board the points of the hon. Member for Cambridge. The Secretary of State must refer the welfare declaration and all the required accompanying information to the welfare advisory body, unless he has decided not to issue a precision-bred confirmation in relation to the animal.

Clause 11 also sets out the framework for information required in the application for a precision bred marketing authorisation. These administrative requirements will be set out in secondary legislation later. The clause also allows for regulation using the negative procedure to set out when a person other than the notifier can apply for a precision bred marketing authorisation for a precision bred animal. To give the hon. Gentleman an example, if some research was seen to be good research but the company became insolvent or something, the clause would then allow for somebody else to become the notified person.

I turn to the group of amendments—4, 5, 6, 7, 35 and 36—that go to the heart of clause 12 and the perceived potential impacts. I will take those amendments as a group.

Amendment 4 proposes that the welfare advisory body complete its own assessment of the risks of the likely impact of any precision bred trait referred to in the application on the health and welfare of the relevant animal and the qualifying progeny.

In amendments 5, 6, 7, 35 and 36, there are proposals for further detail on the information that must be considered by the welfare advisory body when producing its report for the Secretary of State. The suggestions included relate to the technical details on certain traits of the animals that the advisory body would be required to consider.

Clause 12(2)(b) already sets out that the advisory body’s body must consider

“whether the notifier has taken reasonable steps to identify those traits”— that is, their precision-bred traits—

“and risks”— that is, the related risks—

“and has made an appropriate assessment of those risks”.

The Bill enables the advisory body to request further information from the notifier within a reasonable timeframe if the advisory body does not feel that it has had sufficient information, or that it has not been included with the application.

Moreover, if the welfare advisory body considers that the notifier has not had sufficient regard for the risk or has not made an appropriate assessment, that would then be reflected in its report to the Secretary of State, who can decide to reject the application. The safeguards are there. We consider that this is the most suitable approach, ensuring that the Secretary of State has the right information on which an application for a marketing authorisation can be assessed without incurring lengthy delays to the assessment process and the unnecessary duplication of effort, which is particularly relevant for smaller organisations.

Furthermore, the members of the welfare advisory body will have sufficient scientific expertise on health and welfare to be able to understand and assess whether the notifier has correctly identified the precision bred traits and the health and welfare risks.

The welfare declaration process requires notifiers to submit health and welfare information in response to prescribed questions and metrics—those I referred to earlier. Notifiers will not be able simply to decide for themselves what welfare evidence they want to submit.

As I noted earlier, all vertebrate animals are already protected by extensive animal health and welfare legislation. Indeed, animals may be kept for farming purposes only if it is expected that they can be kept without any detrimental effect on their health and welfare. The Bill works alongside that existing legislation to enable responsible innovation. There will be no relaxation of current animal welfare standards; indeed, a rigorous framework will be put around them.

I think that we all understand that breeders will want to ensure that animals produced using that technology have high health and welfare from the outset. We will ensure that that happens through checks and balances in the legislation. I acknowledge the concerns about the potential for precision bred animals to be affected, including those that can sometimes arise from traditional breeding—the hon. Member for Cambridge gave some examples. I contend, however, that precision breeding is a way of developing new traits, and is therefore not, in and of itself, a negative process.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and I assure him and others that the powers in the Bill set out a framework to safeguard animal welfare in precision bred animals. As I have said—it is important that I repeat it—we want to work closely with a range of experts and others to further develop the technical details of the criteria and metrics for the animal welfare declaration, and the evidence that will be required to accompany it. We will set out those details in secondary legislation and guidance.

The amendments are not needed because clause 12 already requires the advisory body to report to the Secretary of State on whether the notifier, when making their animal welfare declaration, has had regard to health and welfare risks to the animal or its progeny that could reasonably be expected to result from its precision bred traits. The advisory body’s report must consider whether the notifier has taken reasonable steps to identify the animal’s precision bred traits and any related risks, and has made an appropriate assessment of those risks.

In line with previous responses, we intend to engage further with stakeholders, including scientific experts, animal welfare organisations and the industry, to ensure that the technical details required for all relevant animals are appropriate. We want the Bill to be durable, and that is exactly the type of detail that we would want to include in the secondary legislation and guidance. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendments, because I anticipate that more information will be readily available as we proceed.

Amendment 8 proposes to alleviate concerns about the risk to animal welfare associated with precision breeding. We agree that safeguarding animal welfare is vital, and I know that the intentions behind the amendment are honourable. The suggestions represent issues that must be explored further as we develop technical details of the system for safeguarding welfare in precision bred animals. We do not consider, however, that proposed new paragraphs 13(1)(za) and (zb) are necessary, because clause 13 will ensure that the Secretary of State needs to be satisfied with the declaration before issuing a precision bred animal marketing authorisation.

The declaration and supporting evidence, which is built by consultation with others, must state that the notifier does not expect the health and welfare of the relevant animal or its qualifying progeny to be adversely affected. The welfare declaration and all required accompanying information must be referred to a functionally independent welfare advisory body, which will report its conclusions to the Secretary of State. Those steps provide for a rigorous but proportionate basis for the Secretary of State’s decision to be made before marketing authorisations are issued.

Furthermore, the power in clause 25 allows us to set out in regulations what constitutes an adverse effect on health and welfare, including any parameters that are needed to assess it. That will be based on the principle that precision bred animals can be kept in conditions that satisfy the existing requirements on the keeping of animals. Those requirements are set out in 2006 Act and the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007, to which we have referred frequently today.

We do not consider it appropriate to include the proposed new paragraph (zc), which relates to any precision trait that could not reasonably have been achieved by means that do not involve modification of the genome of the animal through precision breeding. For example, that would in effect remove the potential to develop the welfare benefits of disease resistance that could be achieved through precision breeding.

I completely understand the intentions of the hon. Member for Cambridge, but we have welfare legislation in place, and the Bill is intended to work alongside that and to enable responsible innovation. We will ensure that we work alongside all the experts and stakeholders previously mentioned to make sure that we get this right. [Interruption.] He looks slightly sceptical, and I understand that I am asking for his trust, but we are looking to those other stakeholders to help us build the technical details that can give both him and the broader public that reassurance.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

The Minister has gone into a lot of detail already as to why she does not support Labour’s amendments. I am not sure that I will be able to change her mind or whether she has another speech put to one side in case I make such a compelling argument—I suspect not—but I will get it on the record anyway.

My starting point is that I was rather concerned about how often she mentioned regulation, further consideration, talking to stakeholders and all those things that are yet to be configured. Actually, we have time to get the Bill right, to get things on the face of it and not to rush into it, rather than having such reliance on secondary legislation. We have made that point already and will, no doubt, continue to do so as we go through the Bill. However, it is a major concern.

I want to say once again for the record that I see that there are positives that could result from gene editing of animals. I am not totally against that. We have talked about improving resistance to disease, resistance to heat and the ability to breed selectively by gender. For example, 29 million male chicks are killed each year in the UK—in the UK it is by gassing, but in other countries it is maceration, which is a pretty horrible process by which they go along a conveyor belt and end up in a grinder that shreds them to bits—so we could avoid that. Interestingly, although people are keen to talk about how we are ahead of the field in animal welfare, parts of Germany have banned culling of male chicks, France has put a bit of money into it, and Germany introduced a ban at the start of the year. It is now all in-ovo testing, so editing the gene might be a quicker and cheaper way of doing it. However, let us not pin all our hopes on this Bill. That is something we could be doing without gene editing. I am surprised that we are not following France and Germany’s lead.

Another advantage we heard about is avoiding the need for dehorning, by preventing the growth of horns. That is all very good stuff, but we also heard about concerns, including the increased yields in particular. That is something that I would be very concerned about. Peter Stevenson from Compassion in World Farming said:

“The science about the detrimental impact of selective breeding on just about every main farm species is utterly clear.”––[Official Report, Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Public Bill Committee, 30 June 2022; c. 101, Q163.]

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge said, some of the things that I have mentioned in the course of debate I will mention again in a moment.

The National Farmers Union said that the Bill is not the place to consider animal welfare and positive or negative outcomes in that respect, because we have legislation such as the Animal Welfare Act and the farm animal welfare codes. I have already made clear my doubts about the effectiveness of that. Some of the witnesses that we heard from argued very convincingly that the existing animal welfare regime does not offer enough protections. Peter Stevenson also said that

“it is vital that there is something in this Bill to protect animal welfare, because the current legislation…has really very little on breeding, which is why we have all these problems.”—[Official Report, Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Public Bill Committee, 30 June 2022; c. 108, Q173.]

I have already mentioned the secondary legislation. Amendment 13 is very important, because if applications are being made for the marketing of gene edited animal products, we need oversight of the related regulations. Otherwise there is a risk of a lax regulatory regime that lets applicants mark their own homework.

I noted the Minister said that the welfare advisory body could request extra information and decide whether the notifier had taken due account of the risk, and that it would be expert enough to know that. I also note that the welfare advisory body would also be told what metrics to include. However, the Minister went on to say how those arrangements would be set out in regulations, and that is of concern to me. At the very least, those arrangements should be subject to affirmative statutory instruments, rather than negative SIs, as set out in the Bill.

The role of the welfare advisory body needs to be fundamentally strengthened. As things stand, the onus is on the people who make the application. Compassion in World Farming notes:

“The way it is written puts the applicant in the driving seat—playing the lead role in determining which welfare risks will receive primary consideration.”

Instead, we need the welfare advisory body to be put in the lead. It goes on to say:

“The Bill must require the advisory body to carry out its own independent far-reaching investigations into the possible welfare risk. It should not be fettered by just what the applicant has said.”

I appreciate that the Minister has said that the welfare advisory body could ask extra questions, require more information and so on, but we all know when regulatory bodies are under time constraints, under-resourced and have an awful lot to get through. I would feel far more comfortable if the welfare advisory body’s primary role was to make the assessments rather than just to respond to what other people tell them. I do not know whether the Minister can give further assurances that that body would indeed be able to investigate.

It is not just about having the powers to do investigate, but having the resources. On paper the Environment Agency has a huge number of powers and can do all sorts of things, but in practice it does very little of what it is charged to do. I am concerned that the welfare advisory body would operate in the same manner.

Amendment 4 would give the welfare advisory body the power to make the welfare assessments and, crucially, to do so with reference to expert scientific advice that takes into account similar traits in other animals. That is a much stronger approach than that proposed.

The issue of yield was raised in our evidence sessions, and I referred to it on Second Reading. We already know how much suffering the explicit aim of increasing yield and speeding up growth has caused to animals through natural breeding techniques. Chickens now grow over twice as quickly as they did 60 years ago, and are bred to be so heavy that they cannot support their own weight, breaking their legs, and living a short life of agony. The same could be said of stock on turkey farms where the birds are bred to be absolutely enormous. Chickens often suffer from cardiovascular diseases, and are bred to produce 300 eggs a year, compared with 20 a year, which was the yield from the wild birds from which they descend. That also makes chickens vulnerable to bone fractures. They are simply not meant to yield so much, and have been designed to do something that is a million miles removed from their natural state. That has all been done through natural breeding techniques, but it is questionable whether they should be forced into that state.

In the past 40 years, the milk yield of cows has more than doubled to around 22 litres a day. That is obviously far more than cows would naturally produce if they were just feeding their calves. There are issues with mastitis for a start, and cows are becoming unfertile extremely quickly as a result of intensive milking. In the wild, a cow’s natural life cycle would be about 20 years, but when raised under intensive farming conditions, it is three or four years. All of that has happened through natural breeding techniques but that is incompatible with good animal welfare, because we are literally squeezing as much as we can out of an animal. Its life is massively shortened because of how it is treated. With gene editing, I am concerned about whether we are expecting to increase yield beyond 22 litres a day. What exactly are we expecting to get out of cows?

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble 3:00 pm, 5th July 2022

I am listening hard to the hon. Lady’s speech and I wholeheartedly agree with her about some of the welfare issues she has described. Does she agree, however, that the Bill offers the opportunity to solve some of the problems that she has identified? The problem with natural breeding is that we effectively chuck everything up in the air, and then it comes back together with one part from the mum and one from the dad. That means that when we select for improved production, we cannot also make sure that we are selecting for health and fitness. We are stuck with the selection—for example, we may select for a dog whose face gets smaller and smaller. I understand what the hon. Lady is saying about making sure that we do not use gene editing just to target individual production methods, but does she share my excitement that the Bill offers the opportunity to fix some of the inherent deficits that traditional breeding has imposed on animals—animals that I know many farmers work with every day, and love?

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

My concern is that that is not spelled out in the Bill, and it goes back to our argument about the public benefit. I would be far more comfortable if the Bill spelled out what the hon. Lady has described and made it clear that that is what it is designed to achieve. The ongoing welfare of the animal should be one of the factors to be taken into account when deciding whether to approve applications. The Bill is not clear about that. Market forces being what they are, some people will want to use the Bill as an opportunity to increase yields.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble

I understand that the hon. Lady is leery about market consequences, and we should always have a good look at them. Some of the welfare issues that we think of as distressing also have a financial cost attached to them—increased vets’ charges; increased housing requirements; and increased vets’ visits. Would the hon. Lady risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater by being specific about the Bill, because a happy, healthy animal that is productive and fecund is an economic positive for the individuals who seek to farm them?

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

One might think so, but consider the lifespan of cows and that fact that they become infertile pretty quickly. One would think that logic would suggest that a farmer would want a cow that they did not literally milk for everything, and that lived a longer, healthier and fertile life. That is not what happens on some farms. Some farmers view the economic advantage to them as getting as much out of a cow as possible in its shorter lifespan. We want to encourage best practice, and I am not casting aspersions on farmers who want to do the right thing, but we know that big market forces are at work, particularly in chicken production. In fact, wherever products are sold in bulk and consumed in vast quantities, some players in that market will not have animal welfare in mind.

I am conscious of time, so to conclude, amendment 7 calls for welfare reports to be submitted to the Secretary of State to consider whether yields would be increased and whether that would lead to suffering. That goes to the nub of the issue. I will not repeat what I said earlier, but if the development of gene editing led to the phase out of some of the diseases that affect animal welfare, I would like more reassurances about what that would mean for increased density and animals kept in cramped conditions, and so on. If we have a stronger animal, that might mean that it is thought they can withstand such treatment.

I think the welfare provisions are too weak, and far too much is being left to regulations and consideration at some point in the future. The Bill should have been put on hold while we made more inquiries and gathered more information. That would have meant that we were discussing a fully rounded Bill, and that we knew what we were likely to get from it.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We have had an excellent discussion of the issues and, as always, I find myself in agreement with much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East has said, not least because she has agreed with me.

There was a lot in the Minister’s opening remarks, and I will go away and study them closely. Part of the problem is that a lot of the what the Minister said is not in the Bill, and this has been a problem throughout. She said that clauses 11 and 12 were crucial because they set up the new regulatory framework, but that that was not expected to be done quickly, because time would be spent on it. That is good and welcome, but, frankly, in the awful situation where another Minister potentially was in place, there is nothing in the Bill to ensure that that original assurance would hold good. As far as I can see, that framework could be established rather quickly if we pass the Bill as it is written.

When we discuss matters when considering secondary legislation, it may be that many of the things that we have raised will be covered, but there are no guarantees, which is why we have tabled the amendments. That is the problem, and why it is our responsibility to lay down some thoughts as to what the framework should be. Perhaps we will help to set some of thinking going forward, and if that is the case, even though I do not anticipate that the amendments will be agreed to, they may help to contribute to setting out the type of framework that we would like.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East that the proposed framework still looks rather weak. The Minister spoke of the advisory body being able to request further information, and that is good and proper, but I think it may need to be able to do more than that. If we have the opportunity to discuss the matter further, I suspect this type of question will come up: what are the actual powers available to the body? I do not think I have yet heard anybody talk about the composition of the animal welfare body, but that it is quite important, because it could be quite a narrow group of experts. There is nothing wrong with that but, as I have said before, people drawn from the same set of people almost inevitably tend to end up thinking the same kind of things. I think the public would quite like some other voices involved in the decisions.

I agree that, ultimately, matters must go to the Secretary of State for decision, so that there is a chain of accountability, but we all know that in reality the earlier processes are quite significant. We will come to our suggestions about how matters should be considered when we discuss the new clauses. People have suggested that the other models should be followed, such as that of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. My understanding is that at times the latter has had a wider membership and remit than originally set. Such a possibility would give people confidence about the work of the animal welfare body as we go into a brave new world, because it is just that: we have fantastic opportunities.

The Minister said that some of our comments suggested that we see the Bill as a negative; we do not. We see it as offering huge opportunities, if done in the right way and with the right safeguards, so that people have confidence that any application is made for the right purpose. We are not that far apart, but it is quite hard to work out from the Bill how everything will look a few years down the line. The worry is that if the Bill is approved unamended, there will nothing to stop matters proceeding rather quickly without the appropriate safeguards. The Opposition would be irresponsible were we not to make that point and to challenge, and that is what we will continue to do.

We have quite a complicated set of clauses and amendments ahead of us, and perhaps we will take them one by one, if that is all right with you, Ms McVey.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

Absolutely. To confirm, would you like to withdraw this amendment or to press it to a vote?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.