Genetic Engineering and Animal Welfare: Preparing for the 21st Century. – Review

Genetic Engineering and Animal Welfare: Preparing for the 21st Century. – Review – book review

Elaine L. Birkholz

Genetic Engineering and Animal Welfare: Preparing for the 21st Century. Edited by Janet C. Gonder, Ernest D. Prentice, and Lilly-Marlene Russow. 127 pages. Scientists Center for Animal Welfare. $40 softcover.

Transplant-ready organs. Cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Frost control. Juicier oranges. Insect-resistant corn. Bananas loaded with vaccines. Faster-growing chickens. Cows with more milk. Goat’s milk proteins that dissolve blood clots.

All these advances–and more–could change our lives as dramatically as the industrial revolution transformed the 18th and 19th centuries.

“There is most certainly no technology in human history capable of occasioning more profound changes in human and animal life than genetic engineering,” writes Bernard E. Rollin, a contributor to Genetic Engineering and Animal Welfare, “yet there is ironically no technology whose ethical implications have been as little explored and understood.”

What are the risks? Is genetic engineering safe? And even if it is, are there ethical, moral, or social consequences that should not be ignored?

These are some of the questions raised by two very different but highly informative books: Genetic Engineering and Animal Welfare and Beyond Evolution.

The former presents 11 papers presented at a scientific conference held in Chicago in 1996. Since the papers were written by scientists for scientists, some of the language can be challenging, but those who persevere are rewarded with a sound understanding of biotechnology’s potential and inherent problems.

For instance, scientists can insert genetic material from one species into another but cannot precisely predict where those genes will insert themselves–or what all their effects will be. Mice being engineered for a particular purpose, for example, can mysteriously die of internal bleeding or, if they mature physically, can lack nurturing behavior.

Other ethical issues center around the potential for pain and suffering; the potential for ecological damage and loss of diversity; and questions about the appropriate limits of scientific inquiry.

Beyond Evolution author Michael W. Fox minces no words. We should never/nave opened Pandora’s box, he writes, because we simply don’t know enough about the havoc that genetically engineered organisms might wreak.

He rails against scientists for deliberately creating genetic defects that guarantee the suffering of lab animals. He criticizes the food industry for promoting the benefits of genetic engineering instead of enhancing soil organically to make food naturally healthy and nutritious. He accuses dairy farmers of neglecting the welfare of their cows when they inject rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) to make them more “efficient” and “productive.”

Fox argues that the integrity and future of creation is threatened more by biotechnology than by nuclear fission or the development and release of petrochemicals.

This eloquent, forceful, and frightening book highlights the need for more public debate and concern on the part of consumers.

Elaine L Birkholz is associate director of the Center for Laboratory Animal Welfare, a division of the MSPCA/AHES.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group