Using genetic engineering to eradicate livestock diseases will have hidden costs for human and animal health, warns Dr Julia Wright
It is very worrying not only to read about yet another blunder by the industrial farming sector (Pigs in the pink: gene editing is set to revolutionise the farming industry, 17 March) but also that the article didn’t attempt to counterbalance with a different viewpoint. We know that healthy, agroecological, farming systems support healthy animals and plants that are then, by and large, resilient to disease. The solution for a sick animal is not to edit genes, because this does not address the cause of the problem and only makes it worse, as the ill health will only find a different way to express itself. In the meantime we are supporting unhealthy farming systems and their associated diseases, and consuming sick pigs.
This isn’t contributing to health or welfare, or saving money, but it keeps farmers lurching from one disaster to another and keeps them dependent on new technology. It is like myopically using a sticking plaster to stop a leak in a dam; another leak will spring if something’s wrong with the dam. It is also wrong to imply that this kind of technology is necessary if an African child is to obtain sufficient protein, when research shows that agroecological farming systems outperform industrial ones in such regions of the world. It is way past the time for agricultural scientists who have only been trained in a reductionist manner to teach themselves about farming systems and how to engender real health. For it is not sustainable livestock production that has a problem. The problem is this kind of unsustainable livestock production that emanates from industrialised mindsets.
Dr Julia Wright
Senior research fellow, agroecological futures, Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University