without attendant hazards. The focus of this report is to identify the science-based concerns related to modern, genetically-based animal biotechnology.
Biotechnology is that set of techniques by which living creatures are altered for the benefit of humans and other animals. Animal biotechnology has a long history, beginning as far back as 8,000 years ago with the domestication and artificial selection of animals. Rapid changes in animal production had been made in previous decades through procedures such as artificial selection, vaccination to enhance health, and artificial insemination to enhance reproduction. However, modern, genetically-based, biotechnology only began in the 1960s, following the discovery of the genetic code. In this report the committee moves beyond the scientific advances to examine new genetically-based technologies.
New procedures involving direct gene insertion and manipulation allow for much more rapid selection of desirable traits than older procedures. These new procedures will be described (Chapter 2) and discussed with reference to possible concerns related to the production of medical products (Chapter 3), food safety (Chapter 4), environmental issues (Chapter 5), and animal welfare (Chapter 6). The committee recognizes that the practice of biotechnology does not occur in the absence of the social, policy, and regulatory environments. Therefore, the committee concludes its report by briefly addressing these topics (Chapter 7).
During the committee’s deliberations, five overarching concerns emerged. The first was whether anything theoretically could go wrong with any of the technologies. For example, is it theoretically possible that a DNA sequence from a vector used for gene transfer could escape and unintentionally become integrated into the DNA of another organism and thereby create a hazard? The second was whether the food and other products of animal biotechnology, whether genetically engineered, or from clones, are substantially different from those derived by more traditional, extant technologies. A third major concern was whether the technologies result in novel environmental hazards. The fourth concern was whether the technologies raise animal health and welfare issues. Finally, there was concern as to whether ethical and policy aspects of this emerging technology have been adequately addressed. Are the statutory tools of the various government departments and agencies involved sufficiently defined? Are the technologic expertise and capacity within agencies sufficient to cope with the new technologies should they be deemed to pose a hazard?
Among the topics considered by the committee, the effects on the environment were considered to have the greatest potential for long-term impact. The taxonomic groups that present the greatest environmental concerns are aquatic organisms and insects, because their mobility poses serious containment problems, and because unlike domestic farm birds and mammals, they easily can become feral and compete with indigenous populations.