28 February 1997

Beware the fast route to breeding monstrosities

CONVENTIONAL breeding has produced animal monstrosities and genetic engineers should take more care in pointing out that they can achieve the same effects much faster.

The warning came from Sir Colin Spedding, chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Council. "Having looked at all the monstrosities that have come from traditional breeding it is not a great comfort to know that we can do that much faster," he told a recent conference at the Royal Society of Medicine.

Conventional breeding had produced dogs and chickens, with "dreadful distortions of the body", said Prof Spedding, who called on those involved in genetic engineering to put animal welfare at the top of their list of objectives.

He warned that the public, on which acceptance of the technology depended, did not view animal welfare as the main reason for genetic manipulation. Instead there was a suspicion that it was all taking place for greed or profit.

"Putting it (animal welfare) at the head of the list of objectives might transform the debate and might remove some of the confrontation which is so counter- productive," Prof Spedding added.

Genetic manipulation could bring welfare benefits, by addressing leg weakness in broilers or lameness in cattle, for example. But concern existed over possible long-term problems.

A recent FAWC report, which reviewed the welfare implications of the new technology, concluded that altered growth and development could result in pain and lost mobility. And consequent reproductive changes, altered disease susceptibility and behavioural problems could also affect the welfare of transgenic animals. &#42