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Give gene editing a chance - NPA chief exec

6th Feb 2019 / By Alistair Driver

Gene editing is a ‘really exciting’ new technology for the pig industry that must not be stifled by unjustified political opposition in Brussels, according to NPA chief executive Zoe Davies.

Zoe ABC2Zoe is featured in a report published by the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) today that warned of the ‘barrier to innovation’ facing British farming following the European Court of Justice’s ruling on gene editing. But it also highlighted the opportunity Brexit represents for the UK to set its own course.

Zoe, one of four industry figures interviewed for the report, said the pig industry, as a big user of soya in feed, is already hampered by the Commission’s attitude towards GM crops. “Every time a new product comes up, it takes forever to be approved,” she said.

While the immediate challenge is getting farmers to use the technology that is already in existence, in the longer-term, Zoe said she sees gene editing as a ‘really positive development’. But she is concerned to see a technology that could deliver benefits for pig health and welfare ‘being lumped into the same category as GM and therefore subject to the same constraints’. “It is completely different technology,” she said.

Zoe highlighted the ‘fantastic work’ The Roslin Institute is doing in developing pigs that are resilient to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), which is not only economically damaging but has a significant impact on pigs’ quality of life. “The thought we could have pigs out there resistant to PRRS would be great. We are being prevented and stifled from accessing this sort of technology because of the Commission’s attitude,” she said.

But she said Brexit could bring opportunities in this area. “The fact that we have a forward-thinking government that is embracing technology and wanting the industry to move forward and improve productivity, as well as thinking about our ability to provide food for the British public, creates quite a conducive environment for us to suggest certain technologies are taken forward,” she added.

She also sees public attitudes changing, particularly amongst younger generations. “People are realising that genetic modification is not such a scary idea,” she said. “There is more information and understanding about what it actually means. It isn’t about sticking foreign genes into plants - a lot of the time it is about breeding technologies,” she said.

“Unfortunately, when something gets tagged with a name, it takes a while to get over that. I think for GM we are coming out the other side. The younger generation get it.”

You can read the full article and the rest of the report here