Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Animal Biotech and the "Blue Topic."

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Animal Biotech and the "Blue Topic."

Article excerpt

In July, I attended the inaugural meeting of the Animals Steering Commitee, a very diverse group of individuals brought together by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology to discuss and move toward consensus on issues surrounding animal biotechnology. The purpose of the first meeting was only to agree on what we should be talking about and how--to set the terms and parameters of a substantive dialogue. But even that is a tall order.

To begin with, "animal biotechnology" is a concept with fuzzy edges. Typically it refers to the use of gene transfer technologies, usually to effect changes that could not be achieved through breeding--recently, by creating pet fish that glow red. But it is only the methods that are new. People have been fiddling with animal nature for thousands of years, over time bringing about changes that are arguably much more dramatic than many of those contemplated in gene transfer research. And it is hard to know where the concept gives out. Toward its edges, there may have been no conscious "fiddling": people could have selected for certain traits without any clear understanding of what they were achieving. In the early days of the breeding of cattle, for example, perhaps people created milder-tempered forms of the original species (the European aurochs, now extinct) mainly because those were the animals they could capture and keep. At the very border of the concept, perhaps just outside it, one may wonder whether humans are fiddling with animals or animals taking advantage of humans. One theory has it that dogs were never really domesticated; rather, they evolved to exploit a new ecological niche.

But whatever the ambiguities of "animal biotechnology," we communicate with the term reasonably well anyway, and it looks sharp when we turn to the moral issues surrounding animal biotech. …

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