|low graphics version | feedback | help|
|You are in: Sci/Tech|
Monday, 21 May, 2001, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
GM meat '10 years away'
By BBC science correspondent Christine McGourty
Meat from genetically modified farm animals could be on sale in the UK in 10 years, scientists said on Monday.
The researchers argued that GM animals would be no different to those reared today on organic farms, which had been altered by selective breeding over thousands of years.
The scientists, who have published a report for the Royal Society, the UK's academy of sciences, also downplayed the notion that laboratories were going to create freakish new creatures for so-called "Frankenfarms".
The report said genetic modification could actually improve the welfare of farm animals and was essential for research into human diseases such as cancer, muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis.
Professor Patrick Bateson, chairman of the group that produced the report, said: "There will always be people who have extreme fantasies about what goes on in this area. We're trying to allay these fears with as much good evidence as we can.
"There will be people who say we're playing God," he added. "Our response is that we've been playing God for a long time."
But the report was branded "disappointing", by Joyce D'Silva, director of Compassion in World Farming, which is opposed to the genetic modification of animals.
"They have paid lip service to animal welfare, but I'm afraid that's all it is, just lip service," she told BBC News Online. Far from easing welfare problems for animals, genetic modification would simply "make things worse", she argued.
And animal rights theologian Professor Andrew Linzey said the Royal Society had missed the opportunity to forge a new ethical direction.
"The impetus is largely commercial," he told the BBC. "It is about making animals bigger and better meat machines; bigger and better laboratory tools.
"I think this represents a kind of spiritually impoverished view of animals and we need to get out of the existing systems of exploitation - not create new levels of exploitation."
It is a good example, the Royal Society group believes, of how GM can improve animal welfare. Professor Bateson said domestic chickens today had been bred to put on more and more weight and were now so heavy that their legs could not sustain their weight.
That kind of welfare problem might be prevented by using genetic modification to alter animals' genetic make-up in a more targeted way, he said.
But Joyce D'Silva disputed that claim. She said the broiler chicken industry had shown no interest in tackling the problem so far and was unlikely to invest the money it would need to use new genetic techniques as a solution.
She condemned the report as "what you'd expect from a society whose job it is to support leading-edge scientific research".
And it called for a moratorium on the rearing of GM fish in marine pens. Approval for commercial production should be conditional on the rearing of GM salmon and others in land-locked facilities, the report said.
Sir Bob May, the president of the Royal Society, said he hoped research into GM animals would be funded primarily by public sources so that it could meet the needs of developing countries, rather than being driven by the desires of agribusiness for leaner meat and cheaper food.
Professor Ian McConnell, of Cambridge University, a member of the group that produced the report, said one example of the potential benefits would be the development of African cattle resistant to sleeping sickness.
However, he confirmed the first commercially available GM farm animals could be up to 10 years away. And there would be lengthy regulatory procedures before meat from such animals would be proven to be safe to eat.
The report also highlighted concerns about animals coming into the UK that had been genetically modified abroad. Professor Bateson said: "If it was the case that animals came into this country that had been genetically modified somewhere else, we'd want them to be very carefully looked at."
"It's a natural process. Humans have been doing it for thousands of years."
But Joyce D'Silva said research showed that the GM animals produced so far had "deformed organs, gastric ulcers" and a range other problems.
"I do agree with the Royal Society's call for a moratorium on the rearing of GM fish in marine pens. But we shouldn't be doing it all. Who needs genetically modified fish?" she asked.
11 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
GM monkey first
12 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
GM monkeys will 'not replace mice'
01 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Mice mutants probe human genome
14 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
'Setback' for GM fish
25 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
'Science in crisis' warns Labour peer
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Top Sci/Tech stories now:
Links to more Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.
Links to more Sci/Tech stories
|^^ Back to top
News Front Page | World | UK | UK Politics | Business | Sci/Tech | Health | Education | Entertainment | Talking Point | In Depth | AudioVideo
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy