Enviropig™ > Societal and Ethical Issues

Societal and Ethical Issues

Food Biotech Consumer Attitudes Social Issues of Food Animal Transgenesis (Lassen et al., 2006)
  1. Is there a risk to the environment or human health?
  2. Is animal welfare better or worse? Will genetic modification of the animal cause suffering?
  3. Is it useful? Often answers to this question have a negative tone however, the main question is whether the application should be rejected. “However, the concept of usefulness is complex and contested, whether it may be societal usefulness vs. self-interested usefulness” (Lassen et al, 2006)

A practical framework for the assessment of genetically modified animals is to adopt the ethical matrix proposed by Mepham (1996) and further explored by Kaiser (2005) which mirrors the four-principle approach known from medical bioethics: do no harm, do good, respect dignity, and be fair.

Two recent articles on transgenic food animals present differing views. These are well presented by Fiester (2008a,b) and Thompson (2008).

Other papers on social acceptance of biotech are those by (Pardo and Calvo, 2006) and (Knight et al., 2007) . Knight et al. did test marketing of organic, conventional and spray-free GM fruit in New Zealand, Sweden, France, Belgium, UK and Germany. When all were listed at the same price the Spray-free GM corn had the least market share. However, when organic fruit was charged a 15% premium, over conventional fruit and spray-free GM fruit was discounted 15%, spray-free GM fruit had the greatest market share in 3 of 6 countries.

Animal Welfare Issues

All animal experiments are conducted following the strict guidelines of the Canadian Council on Animal Care (http://www.ccac.ca/). Guidelines relating to transgenic animals may be downloaded from the site. Pigs are raised in accordance with the Canadian Code of Practice (new website http://www.nfacc.ca/pdf/english/Pigsfactsheet.pdf) for environmentally sound hog production. A major concern with the production of transgenic animals is the impression that they are unhealthy and suffering. However, for a transgenic pig to be useful in the pork production industry it must have all the valuable attributes of pigs currently in production, and in addition have the unique trait it was designed for. In the case of the Enviropig™, the pigs were developed to make available an adequate supply of phosphorus from plant material for optimal growth. Endowing upon the pig the ability to better satisfy its nutritional requirements is a positive characteristic. Growth rate is a key indicator of animal health. We have shown that the Enviropigs grow at the same rate (or indeed faster under some circumstances) as conventional pig that have the same diet except supplemented with phosphorus. From conventional wisdom, it is obvious that the Enviropigs are not suffering, and indeed are more fit than conventional pigs.


Animal Welfare and Societal and Ethical Biotechnology References
  1. Curtis, S.E. 2007. Commentary: Performance indicates animal state of being: A cinderella axiom? The Professional Animal Scientist 23:573-583. (Performance measures are a good indicator of an animals state of being).
  2. Fiester, A. 2008. Justifying a presumption of restraint in animal biotechnology research. American Journal of Bioethics 8(6):36-44.
  3. Kaiser, M. 2005. Assessing ethics and animal welfare in animal biotechnology for farm production. Rev. Sci. Tech.Off. Int. Epiz. 24: 75-87.
  4. Knight, J.G., Mather, D.W., Holdsworth, D.K. and Ermen, D.F. 2007. Acceptance of GM food-an experiment in six countries. Nature Biotechnology 25: 507-508.
  5. Lassen, J., Gjerris M., and Sandoe, P. 2006. After Dolly - ethical limits to the use of biotechnology on farm animals. Theriogenology 65 (5):992-1004.
  6. Mepham, B. 1996. Ethical issues in agricultural and food research policy. In Food ethics. Edited by B. Mepham. Routledge. London. pp. 154-169.
  7. Pardo, R. and Calvo, F. 2006. Are Europeans really antagonistic to biotech? Nature Biotechnology 24: 393-395.
  8. Thompson P.B. 2008. Animal biotechnology: how not to presume American Journal of Bioethics 8 (6):49-50.


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