Yorkshire pig producer Rob Beckett has written to Farming Minister Mark Spencer, urging the UK Government to speed up plans to allow the commercial use of precision breeding techniques in farmed animals.
The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act was granted Royal Assent in March this year, paving the way for gene edited crops and livestock to be introduced on farms in England.
One of the first potential applications in livestock could be PRRS resistant pigs, bred using gene edited traits developed by scientists at the University of Missouri in the US, and the Roslin Institute in the UK.
In August, pig breeding company PIC, part of the global animal genetics group Genus, submitted an application for approval of the technology on the US – it expects to receive an answer within six months.
But under the terms of the Precision Breeding Act, which applies to England only, gene edited plants are being prioritised over livestock.
Whereas, more detailed implementing rules authorising precision bred crops for commercial release and food marketing in England are expected to be finalised in summer 2024, coming into force at the end of 2024, the UK Government has indicated that the equivalent process for farm animals could take a further two years (end-2026).
Mr Beckett pointed to the potential approval of gene edited PRRS resistant gene edited pigs by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in early 2024.
He told Mr Spencer pig producers in England should get access to the same advanced genetics as soon as possible to help alleviate the suffering to animals, and distress to producers, caused by intractable diseases such as PRRS.
Mr Beckett, who also chairs the UK’s largest pig producer co-operative Thames Valley Cambac, questioned the reason for the delay, and called on the Minister to step in to accelerate the process.
“PRRS is a dreadful condition, endemic in both indoor and outdoor pig production in the UK, and responsible for significant losses, as much as £30 million per year in England alone.
“But as a fellow farmer, I know you will understand that this issue is not just about pounds and pence. It is also about avoiding animal suffering, and the distress this causes among producers. A genetic solution is now available which could eradicate this horrible disease – it seems unethical not to get it out onto farms at the earliest possible opportunity,” he said.
Mr Beckett’s call comes after PIC hosted a series of roadshows around the country to update UK pig producers on progress towards the US launch of its PRRS resistant pigs and developments in the UK and Europe, as well as the work PIC has been undertaking to build market awareness and acceptance of the pigs among producers, packers, retailers and consumers in the US.
Mr Beckett, who attended the PIC meeting in Flaxton, near York, added: “At the end of the meeting, producers were asked for a show of hands indicating their support for the technology.
“Every hand in the room went up, and as chair of Thames Valley Cambac, I know I speak for many hundreds of other farmers across the country who are equally keen to see these genetic innovations coming forward as soon as possible.”