The Ethics of Genome Editing in Livestock

Dr Katrien Devolder

PI:  Dr Katrien Devolder

Wellcome Trust 208189/Z/17/Z

Genome editing in livestock (GEL) could potentially be used to mitigate urgent global problems of infectious disease, antimicrobial resistance, global warming, and animal suffering while also increasing agricultural productivity. Despite its imminence and potentially transformative potential, there has been minimal ethical debate about GEL. This project will provide the first in-depth philosophical analysis of GEL, focussing on four questions on which such research is most urgently needed: (1) How far do ethical concerns raised in relation to conventional genetic engineering using previous techniques carry over to GEL? (2) Are the arguments in favour of GEL best understood in terms of cost-benefit analysis, an obligation to 'arm ourselves for the future' or an obligation to correct past complicity in unethical agricultural practices? (3) How should duties to animals be understood in the context of GEL, and what is the relative importance of welfare, respect, and avoidance of commodification? (4) Would application of GEL to improve human and animal welfare entail complicity in maintaining unethical agricultural practices and if so, how could this complicity be reduced or offset? I will then investigate how my findings bear on how GEL should be regulated, and on related areas of public policy.


Podcasts & Media


Hornless Cattle - is Gene Editing the Best Solution?

In this talk, Prof. Peter Sandøe argues that, from an ethical viewpoint, gene editing is the best solution to produce hornless cattle. There are, however, regulatory hurdles. Presented at the workshop 'Gene Editing and Animal Welfare, 19 Nov. 2019, Oxford.


BBC News: 'Three ethical issues around pig heart transplants', quotes Julian Savulescu and Katrien Devolder | by Jack Hunter (11 January 2022)

Following publication of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' report 'Genome editing and farmed animal breeding: social and ethical issues' (1 December 2021), Dr Devolder was quoted in The Guardian's 'Gene-edited livestock: robust rules needed before approval, say ethicists', also picked up by other news outlets:


Cavaliere, G., Giubilini, A. and Devolder, K., (2019), 'Regulating Genome Editing: For an Enlightened Democratic Governance', Cambridge Quarterly of Health Care Ethics, Vol: 28(1): 76-88 [PMC6316359]

Devolder, K., (2021), 'Genome Editing in Livestock, Complicity, and the Technological Fix Objection', Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Vol: 34(3) [PMC8550048]

Devolder K., (2021), 'Genome Editing in Livestock', in D. Edmonds (ed.) Future Morality (OUP) [download preprint here]

Devolder, K. and Douglas, T., (2022), 'Gene Editing, Identity and Benefit', Philosophical Quarterly, Vol: 72(2): 305–325 [PMC9915102]

Devolder, K. and Douglas, T., (2019), 'A Conception of Genetic Parenthood', Bioethics, Vol: 33(1 (January 2019)): 54-59 [PMC6549223]

Devolder, K. and Eggel, M., (2019), 'No Pain, No Gain? In Defence of Genetically Disenhancing (Most) Research Animals', Animals (Basel), Vol: 9(4) [PMC6523187]

Moen, O. M. and Devolder, K., (2022), 'Palliative Farming', The Journal of Ethics, Vol: 26(4): 543-561 [PMC9712308]

Policy and Advice

Advisor: (written and oral contributions) at a workshop organized by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics on gene editing in farm animals, London, 17 July 2019. See below for published report.

Report: 'Genome editing and farmed animal breeding: social and ethical issues' published by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 1 December 2021.  [Download PDF]


Organiser of a workshop on gene editing in animals, funded by the Society for Applied Philosophy, Oxford (19 November 2019).

Related materials

Devolder K, Yip, L, Douglas T. (2020), The Ethics of Human-Animal Chimeras and Animal-Animal Chimeras. The ILAR Journal, Volume 60, Issue 3, Pages 434–438 [download author pre-print PDF]