Disapproval voiced for bird flu resistant GM chickens

17-01-2011 | | |

The UK Soil Association is strongly opposed to the development of GM chickens which are claimed to be genetically engineered to stop them spreading avian influenza.

Last week it was announced that researchers at the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh had produced chickens genetically modified to prevent them spreading bird flu (see “GM chickens developed that don’t transmit bird flu“). In a statement, The Soil Association said that the proposed development does not tackle the underlying cause of serious disease outbreaks linked to industrial chicken production, and it carries the risk of making things worse.

The root cause of the problem is the millions of chickens kept in sheds worldwide, that are often kept alive long enough to reach slaughter age through the use of antibiotics, providing an ideal breeding ground for new, more resistant strains of disease.

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said: “Keeping animals cramped together in inhumane factories encourages the spread of diseases such as bird flu and swine flu. This GM fantasy simply tries to cover up for flawed farming practice. Experience with GM crops shows how quickly resistant super weeds and new insect pests have developed, despite promises from the GM industry that this could not happen. 

“Viruses are some of the most rapidly evolving organisms on Earth, and they could rapidly evolve resistance to the GM chickens. In a race to develop new strains, viruses would get there faster than new breeds of GM chickens could be produced. Viruses could even evolve to become more virulent in response to the GM challenge, posing a greater threat to human health.”

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The Soil Association