This report considers gene modification for farmed animals with a focus on improving their welfare
Gene modification is currently used in multiple ways across the animal farming. The scale goes from subtle breed selection leading to larger chickens to more dramatic transgenic modifications such as Aquavantage salmon. However, there has been relatively little research or attention paid towards using similar methodologies with a welfare focus. Direct welfare benefits seemingly available through modifications are, for example, breeding cows without horns in order to spare them from the painful dehorning process and lobbying for the use of certain more welfare focused breeds. Technologically speaking, many welfare focused interventions seem applicable to animals used in the current system.
One of the biggest weaknesses of this intervention seems to be the potential for negative flow-through effects. For example, working on gene editing for farmed animals could make the occurrence of non-welfare focused gene editing likelier. There is also a potential for backlash, from both consumers who dislike gene modification in food and from those against gene editing in the animal ethics movement. Another weakness is high execution difficulty. As these interventions would be highly dependent on legislation and research, it could be that those working on the intervention would need to wait years for these to progress before being able to make significant positive difference.
Our preliminary research suggests that gene modification seems an averagely promising intervention compared to others. We expect this to fall in the middle third of our reports.
You can read the report to find out more about the strengths and weaknesses of gene modification focused on animal welfare, as well as what specific interventions we considered.
Our priority ask reports are focused on what are the particular improvements or changes that can be “asked” for from corporations, governments, or individuals. Going cage free, making dietary changes, regulating slaughter practices, and many other asks all serve as examples here. They are compared based on the strength of the idea (including the evidence base and estimated cost-effectiveness), limiting factors, execution difficulty, and externalities. All of these factors together could begin to suggest which asks might be the most effective when combined with a priority animal, country, and approach. However, these ask reports are short summaries of longer unpublished reports and, therefore, even if an ask looks promising this does not necessarily suggest that it will end up being a promising charity once paired with other elements and cross-compared to the other strongest possible charities. It just suggests that it is worth further and deeper investigation from our team. You can see our full planned research process here.
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