A range of new technologies including genetic modification (GM) and RNA Interference are being deployed to improve the health of farm animals in a series of European and global initiatives. The ground was laid for a European platform to develop new treatments that exploit these technologies at a recent workshop organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF).
The workshop highlighted the interlocking themes underlying the debate over livestock disease research, following a series of high profile epidemics and pandemics over the last two decades, including BSE, foot and mouth disease, bird flu, and PRRSV (Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus) in pigs, coupled with the public relations problems facing GM technologies.
It was clear that new technologies under the banner of GM have the potential to provide disease resistance with huge benefits for human health, animal welfare, and the agricultural sector, but only if public confidence can be restored. The ethical and societal dimension therefore featured strongly during the ESF workshop, according to convenor Bruce Whitelaw, Head of Developmental Biology at the Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Scotland. There was a very thought provoking presentation by Kenneth Boyd (from Environmental Research Institute in UK) on what our conscience wants. This was one of the scene setting talks and was intended to make us consider up-front the ethical debate, said Whitelaw.
A major issue with GM was that it was deployed too soon with inefficient, inaccurate technology, and often for the wrong reasons, to benefit farmers and pharmaceutical companies rather than consumers. But the technical limitations are being overcome through new methods highlighted at the ESF workshop. There was a very exciting presentation by Chamsy Sarkis (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France) indicating the amazing new technologies and methods for gene transfer. The take h
|Contact: Dr. Bruce Whitelaw|
European Science Foundation