This report describes the scientific developments and policy implications of genome editing in animals. Genome editing techniques such as CRISPR-Cas can be used to make small or large changes at specific locations in the DNA of animals with ease and efficiency. Potential applications are in farm animals, pets and laboratory animals as well as in medicine (xenotransplantation) and population control (gene drives in insects and animals in the wild, and even bringing back extinct animal species). Environmental and ecosystem applications are probably not geographically restricted and will require international consultation and cooperation.
Given the international character of scientific research and the trade in animals and their gametes and in products of animal origin, it is inevitable that the Netherlands, along with Europe as a whole, will be confronted with the consequences of these techniques. A complicating factor is that changes in the DNA of organisms made using the CRISPR-Cas technique are difficult or impossible to detect and distinguish from naturally occurring mutations. This presents challenges both to policy (detection and regulatory enforcement) and to society (consumer choice). Besides benefiting people, some new applications may bring relative benefits or harm the animals concerned. This can alter the balance of risks, benefits and ethical considerations.
Given the accelerating pace of technological change, the government and stakeholders should waste no time in adopting a position on the possible importation of genome-edited animals and products derived from them. For this they must first consult with scientists, breeders, industry and societal stakeholders. In this policy report COGEM gives advice and suggestions on organising this process.