New Report on Moral and Ethical Issues Related to GE Food Animals From the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, Michigan State University

New Report on Moral and Ethical Issues Related to GE Food Animals From the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, Michigan State University

East Lansing, Michigan — Many public discussions about cloned and genetically engineered (GE) food animals have focused on questions of the regulatory authorities that may govern such animals, but few have considered the impacts of ethical or moral concerns. While ethical issues can be equally as or even more important than safety and regulatory issues to many people, there is currently no established venue where these issues can be fully addressed, according to some of the experts who gathered at a workshop last October sponsored by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology and Michigan State University.

Representatives from federal agencies, biotech companies, food companies, consumer groups, animal welfare organizations, agricultural groups, non-U.S. regulatory agencies and universities gathered in October 2006 to consider what options are available for continuing discussions regarding the moral and ethical aspects of genetically engineering and cloning food animals and how those discussions might shape the future development and commercialization of such animals. The workshop report, Options for Future Discussions of Food Animal Biotechnology and Ethics, was released today by the two co-sponsoring organizations.

A separate paper prepared for the workshop by Harvard University scholar Sheila Jasanoff and colleagues, Engineered Animals: Ethical Issues and Deliberative Institutions, is included in the workshop report. This paper discusses major types of animal biotechnology and the variety of deliberative institutions that could play a role in addressing ethical and moral considerations.

Some of the key points that emerged from the workshop included:

  • Many participants noted that no “silver bullet” exists in terms of a single institution accommodating all of the relevant ethics questions; ethics discussions should take place in numerous institutions by a wide variety of people and should engender public trust and confidence.  
  • When it comes to future discussions about food animal biotechnology and ethics, decisions about who will participate, the scope of the discussion, the product, the authority of the discussion, and the amount of transparency involved will affect the credibility and legitimacy of the discussions and any conclusions that might arise from them.

Institutional options considered by participants included:

  • Establish a national accreditation body that would oversee Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees.   
  • Expand the use of “benchside consultations” to all universities and companies where research is conducted.   
  • Encourage the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to convene an advisory committee to address the ethical, social, moral and legal questions.   
  • Create a quasi-autonomous nongovernmental organization (QUANGO) funded by government and other organizations, which would serve as a source of information and recommendations and a mediator on controversial issues.   
  • Increase funding for education of students in the area of food and agricultural ethics.