Animal biotechnology: General case studies
The challenges of animal biotechnology is real difference between genetic engineering and animal cloning, on the one hand, and more conventional ways of “improving” animals by selective breeding and the creation of disease models through, for example, exposure to chemical compounds or radiation, on the other, are important – not least because the interconnectedness of the new technologies with the old is often used as an argument for the new biotechnologies. The argument runs roughly as follows. There is nothing new under the sun. We continue to change animals to suit our own needs. Only the precision and effectiveness of the methods has changed hence animal biotechnology raises no unique ethical problems.
The premises of this argument do seem to be true. At least, it is true that most of the welfare problems associated with cloning and genetic engineering can be found in more conventional technologies too. Large Offspring Syndrome is not only a problem within the cloning technology, but also when other kinds of biotechnology procedures are used The welfare problems that may arise from depriving animals of their natural procreative activity are also linked to other technologies. And welfare problems arising from the genetic engineering of animals can be found in selective breeding programmes as well, as for instance when an excessively narrow focus on productivity leads to leg disorders in broiler chickens, or to increased levels of mastitis in cows Ironically enough, the most eye-catching difference between the old and the new technologies may be uncertainty about the unintended side effects in the latter, and especially with genetic engineering, since this contradicts the biotechnologist’s claim to work with greater precision.
However, it is not possible to dismiss criticism of animal biotechnology merely by pointing to the similarities between earlier and new uses of animal technology. The problem with this argument is that people will not necessarily have accepted the older techniques. Members of the public are largely unaware of the consequences of selective breeding. In general they are critical of confined housing systems, but in reality they were consulted on neither of these matters. We would therefore like to reverse the argument: public worries about new biotechnologies, and the genuine ethical concerns into which they can be translated, should be seen as a reason to critically analyse not only new biotechnologies but also existing technologies, and as a trigger for serious discussion of the limits to what it is ethically acceptable to do to animals Animal biotechnology might not be something radically new, but it can be the straw that broke the camel’s back. What is evident today is that ethical questions raised about the regulation of the new biotechnologies used on animals are not concerned only with the question of welfare understood as mental states or experience. Today, all parties in the debate agree that there are limits to the amount of physical pain or mental stress that it is ethically justifiable to impose on an animal.
Journal of Biochemistry & Biotechnology