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Genome editing and farmed animal breeding: social and ethical issues

This report examines the social and ethical issues raised by the potential use of genome editing technologies in farmed animal breeding.

Genome editing and farmed animal breeding: social and ethical issues
Image: Nuffield Council on Bioethics

The food and farming system faces a number of challenges – to the environment, to animal health and welfare, to human health, and meeting demand to increase meat consumption around the world. We need to change the way we produce and consume food in order to be able to provide a secure, sustainable, ethical and nutritious food supply for the world’s growing population.

Genome editing is the precise, targeted alteration of a DNA sequence in a living cell. In farmed animal breeding, it could be used to produce animals with specific traits that might be difficult to achieve using conventional selective breeding approaches.

New breeding technologies, such as genome editing, could help to address some of the challenges facing our food and farming systems. For example, it could be used to make animals that are resistant to certain viruses, saving many animals from the effects of disease and bringing economic benefits to the agricultural sector. However, it could also be used to accelerate some unethical breeding practices, for example, by using a reduction in the risk from disease as a reason to pay less regard to the welfare of animals and their needs for appropriate conditions and care.


  • Genome editing
  • Livestock