The following points highlight the two main areas of debate related to animal biotechnology. The areas are: 1. Animal Welfare 2. Religious Issues.
Area # 1. Animal Welfare:
Perhaps the most controversy and debate regarding animal biotechnology surrounds the animals themselves. While it has been noted that animals might, in fact, benefit from the use of animal biotechnology — through improved health, for example — the majority of discussion is about the known and unknown potential negative impacts to animal welfare through the process.
For example, calves and lambs produced through in vitro fertilization or cloning tend to have higher birth weights and longer gestation periods, which leads to difficult births that often require cesarean sections. In addition, some of the biotechnology techniques in use today are extremely inefficient at producing fetuses that survive.
Of the transgenic animals that do survive, many do not express the inserted gene properly, often resulting in anatomical, physiological or behavioural abnormalities. There also is a concern that proteins designed to produce a pharmaceutical product in the animal’s milk might find their way to other parts of the animal’s body, possibly causing adverse effects.
Animal “telos” is a concept derived from Aristotle and refers to an animal’s fundamental nature. Disagreement exists as to whether it is ethical to change an animal’s telos through transgenesis.
For example, is it ethical to create genetically modified chickens that can tolerate living in small cages? Those opposed to the concept say it is a clear sign we have gone too far in changing that animal. Those unopposed to changing an animal’s telos, however, argue it could benefit animals by fitting them for living conditions for which they are not “naturally” suited.
In this way, scientists could create animals that feel no pain.
Area # 2. Religious Issues:
Religion plays a crucial part in the way some people view animal biotechnology. For some people, these technologies are considered blasphemous. In effect, God has created a perfect, natural order, they say, and it is sinful to try to improve that order by manipulating the basic ingredient of all life, DNA.
Some religions place great importance on the “integrity” of species, and as a result, those religion’s followers strongly oppose any effort to change animals through genetic modification. Not all religious believers make these assertions, however, and different believers of the same religion might hold differing views on the subject. For example, Christians do not oppose animal biotechnology unanimously.
In fact, some Christians support animal biotechnology, saying the Bible teaches humanity’s dominion over nature. Some modern theologians even see biotechnology as a challenging, positive opportunity for us to work with God as “co-creators.” Transgenic animals can pose problems for some religious groups. For example, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus are forbidden to eat certain foods.
Such religious requirements raise basic questions about the identity of animals and their genetic makeup. If, for example, a small amount of genetic material from a fish is introduced into a melon (in order to allow it to grow in lower temperatures), does that melon become “fishy” in any meaningful sense?
Some would argue all organisms share common genetic material, so the melon would not contain any of the fish’s identity. Others, however, believe the transferred genes are exactly what make the animal distinctive; therefore, the melon would be forbidden to be eaten as well.