NPA sets out benefits of gene editing for pork sector

The NPA has set out why gene editing could deliver benefits for the pig sector if the technology is regulated properly and communicated effectively to the public.

The association has submitted its response to the Nuffield Council of Bioethics’ call for evidence on genome editing, highlighting the potential value of the tool in improving the efficiency of pig production.

Gene editing has already been use experimentally to breed pigs that are resistant to diseases like PRRS and African swine fever, but the technology, which also has many applications in plant production, is not permitted for use at the commercial level.

NPA senior policy advisor Rebecca Veale said: “It may not be at our fingertips yet, but gene editing is an important one to consider and push for. The efficiency of pig production has huge relevance to society as a whole because there are benefits much wider than just producing more food – this includes the resources used, the environmental benefits, lower use of antibiotics and medicines and improved animal welfare.

“The opportunities for application are long. We might be in a better place to tackle diseases such as ASF, currently savagely spreading through South East Asia and parts of Europe and we might be able to reduce emissions in pig production or exploit nutritional availability in feed better.”

In its response, the NPA laid out all the opportunities it believe gene editing brings, while also highlighting the changes needed, firstly in policy, not just in the UK but in other trading nations.

“A few countries have made small steps to utilising this technology, but these have been limited. Our industry cannot be disadvantaged by a lack of access to such a tool and any future policy must be clear not to breach ethical boundaries, but to have flexibility to allow the use of the technology to be exploited to its full potential. Any future developments are reliant on support for the research required to explore the opportunities available,” Ms Veale added.

“Key to the use of genome editing will be the leadership which is required to properly communicate the value of this technology through the supply chain to the consumer, and also to manage expectations.”

She pointed out that, historically, the use of genetic modification (different to genome editing) from the late-1990s was marred by poor communications, which has put European producers at a disadvantage. “There is an opportunity to get the communications right with gene editing, so there is clear understanding of the safety and value from all stakeholders,” she added.

What is genome editing?

Genome editing is a way of making specific changes to the DNA of a cell or organism. An enzyme cuts the DNA at a specific sequence, and when this is repaired by the cell, a change or ‘edit’ is made to the sequence. By editing the genome, the characteristics of a cell or an organism can be changed.

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.