25 September 2023
Gene edited PRRS resistant pigs expected to get US approval for commercialisation early next year. UK pig farmers ask: “When can we get access?”
Leading Yorkshire pig producer Rob Beckett has written to Defra minister Mark Spencer MP, urging the UK Government to speed up plans to allow the commercial use of precision breeding techniques in farmed animals.
Mr Beckett pointed to developments in the US, where gene edited pigs with complete resistance to the devastating PRRS (Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome) virus are expected to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in early 2024.
With the Precision Breeding Act now in place, Mr Beckett said pig producers in England should get access to the same advanced genetics as soon as possible to help alleviate the suffering to animals, and distress to producers, caused by intractable diseases such as PRRS.
The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act, which was granted Royal Assent in March this year, paves the way for gene edited crops and livestock to be introduced on farms in England.
Under the terms of the Act, more detailed implementing rules authorising precision bred crops for commercial release and food marketing in England are expected to be finalised in summer 2024, coming into force at the end of 2024.
But the UK Government has indicated that the equivalent process for farm animals will take much longer, according to some estimates by as much as a further two years (end-2026).
Mr Beckett, who also chairs the UK’s largest pig producer co-operative Thames Valley Cambac, questioned the reason for the delay, and called on the Minister to step in to accelerate the process.
“PRRS is a dreadful condition, endemic in both indoor and outdoor pig production in the UK, and responsible for significant losses, as much as £30 million per year in England alone. But as a fellow farmer, I know you will understand that this issue is not just about pounds and pence. It is also about avoiding animal suffering, and the distress this causes among producers. A genetic solution is now available which could eradicate this horrible disease – it seems unethical not to get it out onto farms at the earliest possible opportunity,” he said.
Mr Beckett’s call comes after pig breeding company PIC, part of the global animal genetics group Genus plc, hosted a series of roadshows around the country to update UK pig producers on progress towards the US launch of its PRRS resistant pigs, bred using gene edited traits developed by scientists at the University of Missouri in the US, and the Roslin Institute in the UK.
Mr Beckett attended the PIC meeting in Flaxton, near York, which included presentations on the technical background to the application for US FDA approval, submitted in August 2023, as well as the work PIC has been undertaking to build market awareness and acceptance of its PRRS resistant pigs among producers, packers, retailers and consumers in the United States.
“At the end of the meeting, producers were asked for a show of hands indicating their support for the technology. Every hand in the room went up, and as chair of Thames Valley Cambac, I know I speak for many hundreds of other farmers across the country who are equally keen to see these genetic innovations coming forward as soon as possible,” he said.
Rob Beckett is Managing Director of Yorkwold Pigpro Ltd, a family owned, multi-site pig farming business in the North of England. He also chairs the UK’s largest pig marketing co-operative, Thames Valley Cambac, and currently sits on the AHDB Pork Council, the Red Tractor Pork Board, the Pig Health and Welfare Committee as well as several other industry welfare groups.
A copy of his emailed letter to Defra farming minister Rt Hon Mark Spencer MP is attached.