NFU chief livestock advisor John Royle urged caution over livestock gene editing over concerns it was not acceptable to consumers.
The NFU has expressed concern about Defra Secretary Michael Gove’s embrace of gene editing technology, which he claimed could help livestock farmers remove vulnerabilities to illness and develop more valuable animals.
In his speech at Oxford Farming Conference, Mr Gove welcomed the technological advances in this area, suggesting they offered the possibility of ‘conquering’ human and animal diseases.
But NFU chief livestock advisor John Royle was nervous of consumer reaction to genetically edited meat.
Mr Gove’s speech has already prompted criticism from campaigners, with the Daily Mail reporting it could lead to ‘Frankencows’.
Mr Royle said: “I am not so sure it is commercially viable. I think we have got to be mindful about consumer perceptions. People want higher welfare, good health and animals which have lived a good life.
“It has got this connotation animals live in a less natural way.”
He added the industry needed to demonstrate its environmental, high welfare and health credentials to the public.
The backlash to Mr Gove’s speech continued with campaign group GM Watch accusing him of ‘disingenuously’ mixing medical applications of genome editing for curing diseases with editing of animals.
In a statement, the group claimed medical uses were largely non-contentious and could progress entirely independently of food crop and animal research.
The statement continued: “But genome editing of animals and food crops is wildly unpopular and entails the risk of producing off-target effects which pass undetected to consumers.”
Instead of focusing on gene editing, Mr Royle suggested farmers exploit more conventional techniques, alongside practices such as genomic mapping, to breed the best animals for meat and dairy.
He said: “We can still use this effectively to make sure we use the right bulls on the right cows.”