6 September 2002

Inform public on GM & cloning

By Isabel Davies

THE government has been warned to consult the public on genetic modification and cloning of animals or face a repeat of the problems seen with the introduction of GM crops.

The warning was made by the governments own adviser on GM organisms, the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, in a new report, Animals and Biotechnology.

It said that even though there were no GM farm animals in commercial production in Britain the government should prepare rules in readiness for their introduction.

At this stage, research suggested there seemed to be little outright rejection of applying the technology, said the report published on Tues (Sept 2).

But people were worried about the speed of developments, the possibility of mistakes and some of the changes that could be made to animals. There was therefore potential scope for controversies to arise in the GM animals and genetic testing domains.

In what is its first report on the issue of GM animals, the AEBC said there was a need for a new advisory watchdog to explore the issues surrounding GM animals.

Its remit should include finding out which applications of GM or cloning the public find acceptable, it said.

"We believe it is vital to anticipate the likely trajectory of public concerns about the application of GM and cloning and to take a strategic look at the key conditions for the public to have confidence in the system."

To further bolster confidence, the AEBC said animal welfare laws should be reviewed to make sure animals are protected from developments which alter their nature in unacceptable ways.

The commission said it wanted to close a loophole which would, for example, allow the sentience – or feelings – of farm animals to be reduced so they could stand a more stressful management regime.

The livestock industry would have to open and be honest about why it wanted to make changes to animals, warned AEBC chairman Malcolm Grant.

"All developments in livestock farming need to be justifiable. They need to have a clear purpose and be seen in the context of societys wider relationship with animals, whether they involve traditional or new techniques," said Professor Grant.

The report was welcomed by shadow DEFRA secretary David Lidington who said there was a need for a proper and informed debate on the subject. But Compassion in World Farming disagreed with its conclusions and called for a complete moratorium on the research and use of GM and cloned animals. &#42