Can it be all that bad ? Ask the animals !
By Dr.Claude Pasquini
IVU News - August 1999


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 can be found in the IVU-ON-LINE NEWS, Number 3, February 1999.
Letters to Dr. Claude Pasquini concerning the above topic or Vegetarianism and Science are most welcome.