Public Perceptions Of Transgenic Animals
The field of animal biotechnology has been rapidly expanding and the development of transgenic animals has been part of this research expansion. How the public perceives such developments is an important component of policy considerations… While general awareness of biotechnology and its specific applications remains low to moderate, this article presents data regarding public acceptance of a variety of applications. These range from the use of animals as disease models and as sources for tissues and organs, to the use of transgenic animals for disease control, for food, and for the production of pharmaceutical and industrial products. [Excerpted from report]
When the public judges biotechnology applications, there are hierarchies of acceptability. For example, there is hierarchy of purpose: applications intended to generate health and medical benefits are viewed the most positively. These are followed by applications for environmental benefits; purposes aligned to achieve some societal good receive greater support than those benefiting individuals. Even within medicine, there are differences in support, for example genetic testing generally has greater support than individual applications such as xenotransplantation.
The moral status of animals has become more mainstream and the public takes into account the purpose of the experiment, whether or not there is unnecessary suffering, whether basic animal welfare is considered, and whether or not there are alternatives are available. In addition, there are boundaries that are considered “natural” or “unnatural” and the crossing of species boundaries is considered to most as unnatural.
In general, public awareness about transgenic animals is low. Three-fourths (75%) of consumers and 70% of scientists surveyed said that cloning and genetic modification of animals raised moral and ethical questions, although consumers were less likely than scientists to approve of either genetic modification or cloning of animals.
Other survey findings about transgenic animals:
- 60% of Americans and 50% of Canadians support the use of genetically modified animals to produce higher quality industrial products.
- Environmental applications are generally positively received. Among Europeans, ‘developing GM bacteria to clean up oil slicks or dangerous chemicals’ was viewed as ‘useful’ by 60%, risky by 40%, and morally acceptable by 50% of the respondents.
- 39% of Americans agree with the idea of modifying insects for disease prevention.
- 25% of Canadians and 33% of Americans support the use of cloned animals as food.
- 66% of Canadians supported the use of animals in medical research, while 48% supported “the use of animals as a source of living cells, tissues or organs to prolong human life.”
In summary, “The general public seem to take a utilitarian view of animal research for medical applications, i.e. animal experimentation is justified if it leads to considerable benefits for large numbers of people. However, when it comes to using GM animals in this realm, whether for research, as a source of pharmaceuticals, or as a source of cells, tissues and organs, the judgments the public make become more complex. Considerations importantly include the purpose for the modification. When benefits outweigh the risks, this can sometimes advance the case for the application.”