‘Genetics has a part to play’

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Early methods of genetically modifying animals were crude and often led to welfare issues such as arthritis but with an increasing knowledge of molecular biology a host of new opportunities are opening up to improve livestock production.

Speaking to the Fellows of the Royal Agricultural Societies in Edinburgh, Professor Geoff Simm from the Scottish Rural College said that genetic modification was not to be seen as a silver bullet curing all ills but it had to be seriously considered in the face of the world having to increase food production.

He accepted the whole GM issue was highly emotive but said that meantime there was other molecular research work which was helping accelerate selection of animals for producing food.

The use of gene markers which pick up on DNA sequences are already being used to determine which dairy bulls are used on the national herd while similar work was going on in both the pig and poultry sectors.

The use of gene markers could also lead to the elimination of unwanted characteristics, he said.