Opinions On Genetic Manipulation Of Animals In The U.S.
The genetic manipulation of animals is common in research settings and has recently been proposed as a solution to achieve the eradication of vector-borne diseases, or for the provision of organs for human transplants. There are many other potential applications of genetic engineering technologies, but are these acceptable to the general public?
According to the results of a survey by the Pew Research Center, people in the U.S. consider it acceptable to use genetic engineering to prevent the spread of vector-borne diseases by altering reproduction in mosquitoes (70% in favour), and to genetically modify animals so that they can provide organs or tissues for human transplants (57% in favor).
The use of genetic modification for other purposes is far less acceptable: 43% consider it appropriate to use this technology to produce more nutritious meat, 32% to restore extinct animal species, and only 21% to make aquarium fish glow.
The respondents’ gender, as well as their educational and religious background, influence their attitudes: men (65%) are more favorable to genetic engineering of animals than women (49%); a higher level of scientific knowledge increases acceptance of these technologies (72%); and people with a low religious commitment are more accepting (68%) than people with a medium (54%) or high (48%) religious commitment. Additionally, people who are against animal use in scientific research are also more often against genetic manipulation technologies (52%).
The researchers further analyzed reasons why respondents considered some of the proposed uses of biotechnology to be negative. The most frequent concerns were about the potential unintended consequences of a given genetic modification (e.g., on human health or the ecosystem), the welfare of the animals used (particularly for transplants), and skepticism about interfering with nature or “God’s plan.” Bringing back extinct species and making fish glow were more often dismissed as bringing no real benefit for humanity and therefore being “frivolous.”
These results can help animal advocates use the right arguments when explaining the risks associated with the use of genetic manipulation of animals. Though the issue of genetic manipulation is likely very black-and-white for advocates, the study shows that the general public sees things on more of a sliding scale.