The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has said that the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill introduced to Parliament today (Wednesday, May 25) is a "serious step back" for animal welfare.

The society has a number of concerns about the gene editing process, namely that there is a lack of information on how it effects animals.

"The animal welfare impact of directly altering an animal’s genetic material can be unpredictable and we simply do not know the long-term consequences," said RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles.

"There are potentially serious implications, for both farm animals and people who care about them and want to be ethical consumers."

The society highlighted that there is no history of sale and reliable use of gene editing in farm animals and that genetic technologies have been proven to cause unpredictable and unintended changes to the genetic makeup of animals, which can cause suffering.

"The drive to apply gene editing technology to farm animals has raced far ahead of public understanding and there is no evidence that the majority of people would support it," the society said.

An alternative

The current rules in place around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are still needed, the society believes, and it added that there are alternative approaches to achieving many of the proposed benefits of genetic technologies - one example given being improving animal husbandry and reducing food waste.

Unrelated to animal welfare, it also raised concern that genetically-edited food could be "forced" onto supermarket shelves in Scotland and Wales, despite those countries objecting to its production.

"It also calls into question British exports of food to the EU which at present has a strict ban on imports of gene edited food," added Bowles.

Genetic Technology Bill welcomed by others

Earlier today, contrasting to the RSPCA's opinion, the County Land and Business Association (CLA) and the National Farmers' Union (NFU) welcomed the bill.

Both organisations agreed that using gene editing to produce better, potentially disease-resistant crops and livestock would be a pro.

NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy said:

“We firmly believe that, led by scientific expertise, precision breeding techniques as a route to crop and livestock improvement could allow us to grow crops which are more resilient to increased pest and disease pressure brought about by our changing climate and more extreme weather events.

"It would also allow us to use new breeding techniques to breed more productive, efficient animals that produce lower emissions and need fewer inputs to protect their welfare.

"This could be crucial in enabling our farmers to become truly sustainable.”