A Public Resource Compiled by the

Africa: Animals

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Africa Non-Flag

Ongoing Research, Regulations In Development

Regulatory status of gene editing of animals has not been set in any country.

No African nation has passed regulations for gene-edited animals. It is considered a fertile region for gene editing to address a wide range of issues, including poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

Transgenic GMOs are strictly regulated throughout the continent. No country has yet commercialized any GMO animals, although the issue is widely debated in scientific circles, particularly in those countries with cows that provide both milk and meat. Several nations have either adopted or are in the process of adopting more flexible legislation regulating GMOs and gene-edited organisms, but there is no sign that strict regulation of animal gene editing will be relaxed.

  • Nigeria’s 2015 Biosafety Act includes a framework for authorizing the release of GMOs, but does not address gene editing, although lawmakers are considering an amendment on gene editing and gene drives.
  • Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA) is drafting guidelines to regulate gene-edited products.

Products/Research

  • Cows produce more milk: Scientists in Africa and at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health are working to increase the milk yield of African cows.
  • Disease-resistant livestock: The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health received funding from the Gates Foundation to work with African researchers to develop chickens resistant to Newcastle disease and cows resistant to East Coast fever.
  • Disease-resistant cattle: International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya developed cattle resistant to East Coast fever, one of the major constrains to cattle production in eastern Africa. The institute is also developing cattle resistant to trypanosomiasis, a parasitic disease in cows and other animals.
  • Heat-tolerant cows: The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health is collaborating with US firm Acceligen and African research institutes to produce African cattle that will better tolerate heat.
  • More productive cows and chickens: Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health at the University of Edinburgh are collaborating with counterparts in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and the United States to develop cows with higher milk production and chickens and cows with higher protein production as well as cows that can tolerate heat better.
  • Bringing back northern white rhinos from extinction: The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany is using gene editing to create stem cells from cells biopsied from northern African white rhinos. These stem cells will be used to create test-tube rhinos, which will be carried to term by surrogates from the species’ closest living relative, the southern African white rhino. About 98.5% of white rhinos live in just five countries (South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda). 

Regulatory Timeline

2019: African Union considers harmonizing biosafety regulations to foster development of biosafety regulatory systems and tools and improve access and utilization by AU member-states.

2019: Nigeria signs amended NBMA Act, which expands the role of the National Biosafety Management Agency.

2018: Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA), announces the development of a draft guideline on contained use of transgenic animals.

2016: South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology commissions an expert report on the regulatory implications of New Breeding Techniques (NBTs), although animal breeding was not examined.

2009: Kenya Biosafety Act 2009 passes, which includes clauses on labelling GMOs.

2003: Nigeria ratifies Cartagena Protocol, which protects the transport and use of organisms modified by biotechnology.

2001: Nigeria establishes National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) to promote, commercialize, and regulate biotechnology products.

1998: South Africa’s National Environmental Management Act No. 107 passed, which strictly regulates GMOs with “foreign” DNA (transgenes).

1997: South Africa’s Genetically Modified Organisms Act No. 15 defines a GMO as “an organism the genes or genetic material of which has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally through mating or natural recombination or both” and requires risk and environmental impact assessments.

NGO Reaction

NGOs, many with connections with European advocacy groups, have been very active throughout Africa in discouraging the adoption of GMOs, and it is expected they will redirect their opposition to gene edited crops as research progresses and various countries consider regulations.

The African Center for Biodiversity (ACB) and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) are among the most vocal opponents of biotechnology on the continent. ACB has proposed indefinite bans on gene editing.

South African lobby group, Biowatch, has argued that genetic engineering is “controversial” with “dubious economic advantages”. Biowatch is funded by multiple anti-GMO organizations, most based in Europe.

In Ghana, scientists urged anti-GMO groups to accept gene editing, but multiple farmer and agriculture organizations, many linked to global and European anti-GMO environmental groups, have supported the government’s decision in 2020 to prohibit GMOs.

Various anti-capitalist advocacy groups in Nigeria, led by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), which has links to global anti-biotechnology groups including Canada’s ETC Group and the London and Boulder, CO-based Global Greengrants Fund, claims that embracing biotechnology will lead to western control of the African food economy.

Additional Resources

●      Genetic Literacy Project’s FAQ on gene editing

Click on a country (eg. Brazil, US) or region (eg. European Union) below to find which agriculture products and processes are approved or in development and their regulatory status. The regulations on genetically engineered crops and animals are emerging out of the regulatory landscape developed for transgenic GMOs.

World single states political map

European Union

European Union

Brazil

New Zealand

New Zealand

United States

United States

Australia

Australia

Canada

China

United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Israel

Argentina

Argentina

Japan

Mexico

Russia

Chile

Uruguay

Paraguay

India

Africa

Ukraine

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia

Central America

Central America

Colombia

Norway

Ecuador

Agriculture Gene Editing Index
Compare Regulatory Restrictions Country-to-Country

Gene editing regulations worldwide are evolving. The Gene Editing Index ratings below represent the current status of gene editing regulations and will be updated as new regulations are passed.

Colors and ratings guide
 

Regulation StatusRating
Determined: No Unique Regulations*10
Lightly Regulated8
Proposed: No Unique Regulations†6
Ongoing Research, Regulations In Development5
Highly Regulated4
Mostly Prohibited2
Limited Research, No Clear Regulations1
Prohibited0
Lightly Regulated: Some or all types of gene editing are regulated more strictly than conventional agriculture, but not as strictly as transgenic GMOs.
*Determined: No Unique Regulations: Gene-edited crops that do not incorporate DNA from another species are regulated as conventional plants with no additional restrictions.

†Proposed: No Unique Regulations: Decrees under consideration for gene-edited crops that do not incorporate DNA from another species would no require unique regulations beyond current what is imposed on conventional breeding.

Crops/Food:
Gene editing of plants and food products. Research and development has mostly focused on disease resistance, drought resistance, and increasing yield, but more recent advances have produced low trans-fat oils and high-fiber grains.
Animals:
Gene editing of animals, not including animal research for human drugs and therapies. Fewer gene edited animals have been developed than gene edited crops, but scientists have developed hornless and heat-tolerant cattle and fast-growing tilapia may soon be the first gene edited animal to be consumed.

Rating by Country / Region
Click each column header and arrow to sort the countries / regions

Swipe right/left if all columns aren't visible

Country / RegionFood / CropsAnimalsAg Rating
Japan888
Brazil101010
Canada888
Russia555
Argentina101010
Israel1057.5
Australia888
China555
US1047
Chile1015.5
New Zealand444
Ukraine111
Central America666
Paraguay101010
Uruguay666
India666
UK222
Mexico111
EU222
Colombia1015.5

Global gene editing regulatory landscape

The regulations on genetically engineered crops and animals are emerging out of the regulatory landscape developed for transgenic GMOs. Regulations across 34 countries where transgenic or gene edited crops and animals are commercially allowed (as of 12/19) are guided in part by two factors:
 
 
Whether the country has ratified the international agreement that took effect in 2003 that aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from biotechnology that may impact biological diversity, also taking into account potential risks to human health. It entered into force for those nations that signed it in 2003. It applies the ‘precautionary approach as contained in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. The US, Canada, Australia and Chile and the Russian Federation have not signed the treaty.
 
 
Whether regulations are based on the genetic process used to create the trait (conventional, mutagenesis, transgenesis, gene editing, etc.) or the final product.Transgenic crops and animals (aka GMOs) are product regulated in many countries including the US and Canada, while the EU, India, China and others regulate based on how the product is made. There is almost an equal number of countries with product- and process-based regulations. It’s not clear how much this distinction matters. It’s somewhat true that countries with product-based regulation have more crops approved and the approval process is more streamlined, but there are contradictions. For example, Brazil and Argentina have emerged as GMO super powers using different regulatory concepts, while there is no GMO commercial cultivation in Japan, North Korea, and the Russian Federation, which employ product-based regulations. How this will effect gene editing regulations is also unclear. For example, Japan, which has no commercialized GMOs, is emerging as a leader in the introduction of gene edited crops.
Agricultural Landscape
Share via

Gene editing is a set of techniques that can be used to precisely modify the DNA of almost any organism. It is being used for applications in human health, gene drives and agriculture. There are numerous gene-editing tools besides CRISPR-Cas 9, which gets most of the attention because it is a comparatively easy tool to use.

Gene editing does not usually involve transgenics – moving ‘foreign’ genes between species. It also refers to a specific technique in contrast to the general term GMO, which is scientifically ambiguous, as genetic modification is a process not a product. Most gene editing involves creating new products by deleting very small segments of DNA (sometimes in agriculture called Site-Directed Nuclease 1 or SDN-1 techniques), which can silence a gene or change a gene’s activity. Countries are evaluating whether or not to regulate this type of gene editing, since it is so similar to natural mutations. The GLP’s Gene Editing Index ratings reflect the regulatory status of SDN-1 techniques, which are the most liberally regulated and will generate most products in the near term.

To develop different products, gene editing can change larger segments of DNA or add DNA from other species (a form of transgenics sometimes in agriculture called SDN-2 or SDN-3 techniques). While many countries are not regulating or lightly regulating SDN-1 techniques, most are moving toward tightly regulating or even restricting SDN-2 and SDN-3.

For more background on the various gene editing SDN techniques, read background articles here and here.