Many research projects will cause suffering without delivering claimed benefits
GeneWatch UK has produced an excellent report in response to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ Call for Evidence on Genome Editing and Farmed Animals. It gives a clear overview of the problems with gene-edited animals, as well as animals modified using earlier GM techniques.
The summary from GeneWatch UK's report says, "Genome editing techniques open up many more opportunities for researchers to alter the genomes of animals in fundamental ways. However, they do not overcome many of the concerns regarding genetic modification of animals, or the problems in delivering viable commercial products. Therefore, the potential harm to genome edited farm animals needs to be considered in a context where many research projects will cause suffering to animals without delivering the claimed benefits.
"Exaggerating the likely delivery and effectiveness of potential future technological applications can lead to opportunity costs when alternative solutions are neglected, and can close down public debate about the best ways of developing knowledge collectively in order to tackle societal problems. Alternative approaches to tackling challenges must be a key part of public engagement with the scientific, regulatory and science policy debates: including questions about what kinds of research should be funded.
"GeneWatch UK considers that genetic modification of animals is an assault on the integrity of living beings. It should not be undertaken without extremely compelling reasons and the presumption in every case should be against such interventions. Regarding regulation, GeneWatch UK supports the opinion of the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, which states that new genetic engineering techniques will create genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that require, inter alia, risk assessments and labelling (TACD, 2016)."
The report goes on to say, "GeneWatch UK is concerned that hype about the future benefits of genome editing in animals is leading to misleading claims about what will be achievable. The social and economic causes of this hype are discussed further later in this submission. Here, we begin by noting that we have heard many of these claims before."
In spite of repeated claims by GMO developers that editing the genomes of animals will improve animal welfare, the report cites evidence to show that in fact these ventures have caused massive suffering: "Most applications of gene editing in mammals still rely on the use of cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer, SCNT) to reproduce gene edited animals, resulting in serious welfare impacts, including effects on health, on a significant proportion of the clones and surrogate dams involved in the cloning process... This includes large numbers of failed pregnancies, still births, deformities and early deaths.
"Alternatives such as cytoplasmic injection (CPI) have somewhat lower failure rates, but still raise animal welfare issues regarding failure rates, and cause additional problems because the desired trait is not successfully expressed in all offspring or all cells of offspring (known as mosaicism). More than 300 gene edited pigs, cattle, sheep and goats were produced between 2010 and 2015, with a single gene edited animal typically requiring hundreds or thousands of embryo transfers (with CPI or SCNT respectively)... Alternative methods which seek to reduce these negative impacts are under development, but so far have been largely unsuccessful... Thus, there is no reason to expect an imminent breakthrough in the delivery of claimed benefits, or in reduction of the harms to the animals involved in such experiments."