|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
I offer you a few reflections on genetic engineering as it relates to the "animal rights"- issue and our "World-Wide Millennium Pledge". There is, of course, so much more to say about it, but I would like our readers to tackle the topic in "Letters to the Editor" that we could eventually publish and discuss on a scientific platform. - Dr. Claude Pasquini
In an E-mail to the IVU, the vegetarian and near-vegan VUNA/IVU-member Dr. Emanuel Goldman, professor of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, urges the promoters of "The World-Wide Millennium Pledge" to delete the entire sentence about genetic manipulation. The sentence he objects to reads: "We oppose the introduction of animal genes into human beings and the genetic manipulation of animals and plants". And indeed the mere fact that he so writes, "genes obtained from animals can be genetically manipulated and by recombinant DNA-technology expressed in bacteria, yeast, or plants" offers us what he calls "the most realistic opportunity yet" to free humanity from having to kill or exploit animals.
Thanks to DNA-recombination, we are able to obtain products from animals that are beneficial to us and to them, including for example, genetically engineered insulin, thyroid hormone or rennet, the latter being hailed by many vegetarians as a significant step towards saving millions of calves that otherwise would have to be killed just for the cheese producing industry.
From a vegan point of view, that sort of DNA-technology still exploits animals, yet it also bears the potential to correct human and animal ailments without ever having to rely again on the animal world for its raw material, the genes.
Genetically manipulating plants to make them more pesticide-resistant is definitely not an ecologically meaningful way to produce healthy food. But genetically interfering with our food to enhance their nutritional value without endangering our health and to reduce or eliminate the dependence on pesticides and fertilizers may very well be acceptable.
DNA-technology doesn't have to serve the vested interests of big agro-business; it doesn't have to be an applied science for science's sake either, nor should it be espoused just because it can be. It definitively shouldn't be a playground for Frankenstein characters out to produce and use transgenic animals, all the while disregarding the enormous risks of xenotransplantations from any species to another, be it a part of the animal or plant kingdom or of the world of the bacteria. DNA-technology could very well be, however, a means to prevent soil depletion, to protect drinking water resources, to help fight world hunger and to save open space for the benefit of humanity and wildlife.
Of course, the fears and apprehensions about genetic manipulation are justified. And we must be extremely cautious about what we are doing and about who is doing it for what purpose. After all, we are tinkering with evolutionary processes prone to do foolish things with the building stones of life. Let us remember that we have been dabbling in some sort of genetic manipulation all throughout our agricultural history. If genetic engineering is here to stay, we might be better off making sure that more and more members of the scientific community will be of the Goldman-type, which is to say, realistically, ethically and ecologically conscious vegetarian, near-vegan, and even better vegans.
The well-argued and very readable statement by Dr. Goldman is appended below.
Letters to Dr. Claude Pasquini concerning the above topic or Vegetarianism
and Science are most welcome.
Date: Tue, 22 Dec 1998 18:30:21 -0500 (EST)
As an ethical vegetarian for over 34 years (also near vegan for many years now), as well as a molecular biologist, I must take exception to one of the comments in the World Wide Millennium Pledge, as recounted in the General Secretary's Welcome Message.
The statement in question reads:
"We oppose the introduction of animal genes into human beings and the genetic manipulation of animals and plants."
I might be willing to endorse opposition of introduction of animal genes into human beings, but I am especially unhappy with the implications of the latter part of the sentence, "genetic manipulation of animals and plants."
Genes obtained from animals can be genetically manipulated and by recombinant
DNA technology, expressed in bacteria, yeast, or plants. Some of these
genes may specify useful products which are presently obtained by
Having said that, I would be willing to generally endorse opposition
to genetically engineering the animals themselves, but even here, being
too absolutist may be counter to our own beliefs; for example, I can envisage
(I am quite opposed to introduction of whole animal organs into humans, which is medically very dangerous to the human species, quite apart from the ethical objection, and I am a participant in a coalition opposing this procedure, the "Campaign for Responsible Transplantation.")
Regarding genetic manipulation of plants, I believe opposition has no
place in an ethical vegetarian context. It can be opposed from the perspective
of "organic" farming philosophy, and/or on the basis of concerns
about health effects, but not as a matter of animal exploitation. Regarding
the issue of health effects, there is as yet no clear answer as to whether
genetically manipulating plants could help, hurt, or have no effect, but
it is just as easy to envisage genetically engineered plants with enhanced
nutritional value as not. Probably these would have to be
I have previously written about how genetic engineering can actually be a benefit to ethical vegetarians, in articles in "Satya" magazine (http://www.montelis.com/satya/backissues/jan98/engineered.html) in January 1998, and the "Jewish Vegetarian Quarterly" also in 1998.
I urge the Congress to strike the entire sentence about genetic manipulation from the pledge. As it stands, I will not take the pledge with this statement included.
Emanuel Goldman, Ph.D.