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Fears over GM farm animals

(Thursday, Sept. 5, 2002 -- CropChoice news) --

BBC news

Stricter controls on the development of genetically modified (GM) and cloned animals should be put in place to avoid "mistakes", a panel of experts has said. The Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC) recognised there were concerns about, for instance, farmed GM salmon escaping into the wild.

A strategic body should be set up specifically to deal with the issues surrounding GM farm animals, it said in a report released on Tuesday.

The AEBC acknowledged that GM and cloned animals in conventional agriculture were some way off.

But it said decision-makers should consult the public far more widely in advance to avoid problems seen with public acceptance of GM crops and food.

GM salmon

The panel, which advises the UK Government, recommended a review of animal welfare legislation.

Its chairman, Professor Malcolm Grant, said: "There has to be an informed public debate and adequate regulatory structures in place before the possible arrival of the first genetically modified animals on our farms or ready to be released into the environment."

The report investigated the range of possibilities for GM animals, from sheep producing medicine in their milk to salmon designed to grow two or three times faster than normal fish.

It said a ban on the commercial development of GM salmon and other fish should stay in place while questions remained over the environmental impact on wild stocks.

Prof Grant told a London news conference: "Once the salmon is in the wild, it's in the wild.

"What we can't do is forecast accurately whether the effects will be detrimental or positive."

He said the idea of cloning pets was "trivial, it's distasteful".


The report said developments in genetic biotechnology were particularly sensitive because of the speed and nature of the changes to animals it made possible.

The commission has taken a strategic look at the issues and investigated the regulatory system to see if it could cope with future developments in GM and cloned animals.

The report underlined that "in doing so we made sure that our recommendations were influenced by the public's views.

"Our research shows that mistrust of official institutions affects attitudes to these issues.

"There seems to be little outright rejection of applying GM and cloning to animals, but people are worried about the speed of developments and the possibility of mistakes.

"Above all they ask for a transparent regulatory system that they can trust."

Public involvement

Other recommendations in the report, Animals and Biotechnology, included:

  • The use of new methods and funding to engage the public in decisions about genetic biotechnology.
  • Including GM clones and conventional animals in the same regulations where possible.
  • Updating the 1911 Protection of Animals Act.
  • Monitoring of GM and cloned farm animals after they have been commercialised.
  • The AEBC advises ministers on biotechnology issues affecting agriculture and the environment.
  • It was set up in July 2000 and reported on the UK's field trials of GM crops last September.