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Genetic engineering has the potential to transform how we raise animals for meat and other products, making food safer, improving animal health and welfare, and shrinking animal agriculture’s environmental footprint. Pigs that are less likely to induce allergic reactions in humans. Cows with short hair that are better adapted to a changing climate or others that lack horns, preventing injury to other cows or farmhands. Salmon that reach market size in 18 months instead of 30. Animals that are resistant to viruses and disease, resulting in healthier animals and potentially less risk of transmission of viruses from animals to humans.

For millennia, farmers and ranchers had to encourage desirable traits by selective breeding, a notoriously painstaking and imprecise technique. But with the advent of genetic engineering, genes encoding favorable traits in one species (say, that hornless cow) could be spliced into the genomes of other animals. Newer technologies can make highly targeted changes at the base-pair level — one specific rung on the DNA ladder — enhancing precision and reducing the likelihood of “off-target effects” in which base pairs are unintentionally added to or deleted from the genome.


But realizing the benefits of animals with intentional genomic alterations depends on gaining consumers’ trust, which in turn requires a regulatory system that consumers can count on. Such a system must ensure our safety while allowing the modified animals to become available when appropriate. That system requires a science-based assessment of each new product overseen by a neutral party with consumers’ interests at heart.

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