Researchers in Scotland think a litter of GM piglets could usher in a tech-powered era of food production.

Could a litter of Scottish piglets usher in a tech-powered era of food production? Researchers at Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute believe so. Dedicated to animal health and welfare, these scientists have edited pig DNA and designed a new animal breed resistant to the deadly African Swine Flu (ASF). This recent triumph in genetic modification (GM) may help build a sustainable food future, but not without some public resistance along the way.

The Roslin Institute pigs are part of the latest wave of GM animals bred using new DNA-sequencing technologies. Altering the genetic makeup of an organism, they employ ultra-precise gene editing tools that sidestep some longstanding objections to GM, such as cloning. By avoiding contentious methodologies, the Roslin Institute has established a socially friendly, commercially viable solution to one of the industry’s most devastating problems, ASF, at a time when global consumer demand for food is rising.

Yet GM livestock still faces a challenge when it comes to consumers, who have long been wary of so-called “franken-foods.” In development since the 1980s, genetically engineered animals have never been sold commercially anywhere in the world. One example, the AquAdvantage GM salmon, has been waiting some 20 years for FDA approval. Our Food + Drink: Trends and Futures report shows that 58% of UK and US consumers find the idea of foods free of genetic modification appealing. Many brands are catering to this, such as Chipotle, which pledged earlier this year to remove GM ingredients from its menu.

Could the shift away from troubling GM methodologies like cloning towards research solutions like these that focus on animal health and welfare be what finally shifts public opinion? Perhaps, but some commentators believe the swelling global consumer demand for meat can only be met if we harness GM technologies like this one.

Image credit: Art direction and concept by The Gourmand, photography by Jess Bonham, food styling by Peta O’Brien

Image credit: Belcampo Meat, USA