13 / 11 / 2023
New ‘Precision Breeding’ legislation – a cause for concern?
New UK legislation controlling the use of genetically altered animals and plants for food production could lead to an increase in animals being used in research.
What do you need to know?
- The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act was made law in March 2023.
- It removes some restrictions around the control and use of gene edited animals and plants for the purpose of food production, animal feed, and research.
- The bill took just ten months to pass through Parliament, likely reflecting industry drivers relating to food production in England.
- The act covers the gene editing of all vertebrate non-human animals and plants. No changes to regulations will be introduced involving animals until 2026.
- Welfare frameworks are currently being established for gene edited animals by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
- Initial gene editing work will take place under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act before animals are transferred to the powers of the new legislation through the ‘rehoming’ clause of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act.
FRAME’s view on the New ‘Precision Breeding’ legislation
Gene editing enables DNA of animals to be altered as never before, and it is being pursued at a fast pace.
Gene editing animals is not as scientifically well established as genetic modifications of plants, and carries additional ethical, welfare, and consumer concerns. Yet plants and animals are included under the same legislation rather than being considered separately.
The precision of the editing techniques has also been overstated. Unintentional genetic modifications are commonplace, including DNA from other animals and microbial species being inadvertently inserted from materials used during editing procedures (1). These unintended changes can be passed through breeding lines (2), potentially impacting animal and human health, particularly with increasing concerns around zoonotic diseases.
There are also concerns around the use of ‘rehoming laboratory animals’ under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 to move animals from one piece of legislation to another. Whilst the decision to rehome laboratory animals includes assessments of their general health, socialisation, and the severity of procedures they experienced, there is no telling how being placed in an environment, like a commercial farm, will affect their future welfare. This could also lead to an increase in animals undergoing experimental procedures under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.
If new gene alterations mean that they do not pass the ‘rehoming’ framework and cannot be transferred to the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act, more animal lives will continue to be wasted as they will no longer be needed and most likely be euthanised.
It is vital to science, and to the animals themselves, that the concerns around the altering of animals in this way for science and food must be addressed, and not continued to be pushed through at this fast speed.
Want to help?
We urge you to write to your MP about the potential increase in animal testing as a result of this law. You can find your local MP using the button below.Find and write to your MP