Gene Editing

Genome editing (GE) is a group of technologies that enable an organisms DNA to be manipulated by adding, removing or altering genetic material at particular locations in the genome.

Editing an animal's genome involves procedures that potentially cause pain, suffering, distress and lasting harm. It is an inefficient process, using large numbers of animals to produce a single individual with the desired edit. Despite claims that these newer GE techniques are much more precise than previous methods, they still cause unpredictable and unintended changes to the genome, which are only just starting to be reported.

The RSPCA has numerous serious concerns about the GE process, namely:

  • There is no history of safe and reliable use
  • Genetic technologies can cause unpredictable and unintended changes to the genome;
  • Not enough is known about the medium to long term effects on animal health and welfare;
  • The current rules and regulations around GMOs are still essential for regulating GEs until there is greater scientific evidence available;
  • There are alternative approaches to achieving the proposed benefits of genetic technologies e.g reducing food waste, with 12% of all meat and animal products produced globally lost or wasted every year, and improving animal husbandry;
  • GE products have been withdrawn from approval in the USA following the Regulator's concerns on the transfer of other genes during the GE process;
  • GE produced food could be forced onto supermarket shelves in Scotland and Wales despite those countries objecting to its production and sale.

On 7 January 2021, the UK Government launched its consultation looking at genetic technologies within England, mainly focusing on the regulation of gene edited (GE) organisms possessing genetic changes which could have been introduced by traditional breeding.

To date, the Welsh Government has not made any move to permit this practice - instead acknowledging "considerable debate in the scientific community" and favouring a precautionary approach based on science. However, even if the Welsh Government did not allow the production of gene edited foods, they may be unable to stop them appearing in shops in Wales due to new rules under the Internal Market Act - and any such GE produce may not even need to be labelled. RSPCA Cymru fears this could have damaging consequences for consumer choice and animal welfare - both of which should be hallmarks of Wales' approach to food production.