Safety, ethical and welfare considerations
Development of transgenic organisms is proceeding in an environment of intense public debate about safety, environmental impacts, and ethics of the technology. Some of the issues framed in this debate can be addressed through science, whereas others are inseparable from one's world view and ethical framework for decision making. Good science alone cannot ensure public acceptance of transgenic livestock animals, and both bad science and bad communication with society have the potential to severely damage and delay acceptance.
Genetic selection programmes for livestock are also environmental choices. Genetic modifications, whether by traditional or transgenic methods, can change productivity in ways that may reduce the number of livestock that must be maintained, the amounts and characteristics of feedstuffs fed, the pharmaceuticals and pesticides used to maintain health, and the amount of animal waste that must be disposed. The utility of such modifications can be independent of the specific production system being employed or can be strongly linked to housing and nutritional management. Transgene controlled modifications to animal digestion or metabolism that fundamentally change animals' capacity to utilize specific feed ingredients or forages, or that alter the composition of animal waste, would clearly have profound environmental consequences. As the growth of the human population continues to decrease the amount of arable cropland, choices made regarding the genotypes of the livestock being raised, and the associated production systems, will become increasingly critical. It is recognized that occasionally, unexpected detrimental effects of gene insertion will occur, and these effects will not be detected until after birth. In this context, several concerns regarding introduction of a transgene must be considered. Choice of the gene selected for transfer is the most controllable step to avoid adverse side effects. As shown from early experiments with transgenic swine, genes encoding proteins.
In addition to concerns that encompass all uses of transgenic animal technology, some considerations for risk assessment are pertinent only to certain gene transfer methods. For example, use of replication-defective retro vectors for introducing transgenes into the food chain will be accompanied by the need to demonstrate the biological safety of the vector, notwithstanding the numerous endogenous and exogenous retroviruses already prevalent among domestic animals. Phenomena such as these highlight the relevance of ethical and animal welfare issues to transgenic livestock research and development. Peer and outside reviews of proposed transgenic animal research are embodied in the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) overseeing entities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). This approach should comprise an effective way to address such issues, provided the IACUC members are adequately informed about relevant technical and ethical concerns.
As transgenic animals, bio pharming, and cloning become more mainstream, a small yet growing portion of the animal production industry will shift its operations from farming livestock for meat production to transgenic animals for pharmaceutical production. The world market is growing for human pharmaceutical products. Producing transgenic animals is still relatively expensive, however, costs are trending down and transgenic animals have certain advantages over traditional laboratory methods for producing human proteins. More commercial use of transgenic animals in food production is also likely. The technology used to develop transgenic animals is somewhat mature; however, the industrialization of bio-pharming is new.
Regulations will need to review existing policies and guidelines regarding transgenic animals. New policies regarding transgenic and cloned animals may be necessary to ensure the safety and health of humans and animals. Ongoing public debate regarding transgenic technologies will ensure that further research and analyses will be demanded by animal producers, regulators, environmentalists, and the general public.