Animals and Genetic Engineering - Unlimited Cruelty
An Animal Rights Article from


Toby Köberle, Melbourne
July 2005

Animals are under threat from a new kind of exploitation – through genetic engineering (GE) and cloning. The two are similar, but not identical.

Scientists and the biotechnology companies who sponsor them use genetic engineering (GE) on farm animals in an attempt to achieve higher productivity (e.g.. meat, milk, wool), a modification of characteristic traits (e.g.. larger muscles, faster growth rates), an improved resistance to diseases, an improved uptake of nutrients or an improved adaptation to specific environmental conditions. The technology is also applied to laboratory animals so that these may be more ‘useful’ for animal testing and experimentation purposes, again by exhibiting the desired traits.

Cloning refers to making a genetic copy of a given organism with ‘desirable’ traits and is done for the same reasons as genetic engineering. Nevertheless, many of the animals presently cloned are genetically modified stock. (Seamark, 2003)

So, what is wrong with that?

Stated simply, two things set GE and cloning technologies apart from traditional breeding.

1) Scientists want to be able to transmit specific traits of agricultural products beyond the natural boundaries of species (e.g. spider genes into goats, human genes into pigs – yes, these have been attempted!), and

2) Animals bred by traditional breeding do not, in general, have to put up with cruel and deliberately or accidentally induced deformities and ongoing bodily malfunctions (e.g.. liver and kidney damage, grossly deformed hearts, spleens and genitalia). (Poole, 1997)

Sheep, cattle, pigs, chickens and 35 species of fish have already been genetically modified in attempts to increase their production of milk and meat beyond the limits their bodies can bear without damage. (Christ & Schürkens, 2003) They have also been engineered to secrete therapeutic protein products for human medicine; a process called 'gene pharming'.

Apart from the immense suffering they cause to animals (not that that can be so easily pushed aside), these technologies are unrivalled, ridiculously costly and inefficient, and, most importantly, unsafe to both animals and humans. That is because genetic engineering is a hit-or-miss process. A large number of animals have to undergo surgery - many die - in order to produce a few ‘successes’. In fact, between 85 and 99 percent of genetically altered embryos die before they are born. Only 0.5 to 4 percent of the embryos transferred to foster mother animals are born alive (Ammann & Vogel 2000, Meier et al. 2003) and many transgenic animals that are born alive die at an early stage with a range of malformations and severe health problems - often due to organ defects, (Christ & Schürkens, 2003). The failures (that is, the 85 – 99.5% of animals which do not exhibit the desired traits) are killed off as ‘rubbish’. Even “Dolly” the first cloned sheep was the only lamb born from 277 embryos in that trial. (Coghlan, 1997) Yet the media hailed this as a ‘great success’.

Speaking of the media, the real results from these cruelest of animal experiments are kept from the public eye. Pictures of GE animals are extremely difficult to find. In the words of GE expert Bob Phelps of the Genethics Network, Australia, “The many failed GM experiments are just quietly shelved.” Public awareness of the development of transgenic livestock is much smaller than that of transgenic agricultural crops. The deficiency of scientific studies and public debates concerning risks caused by transgenic farm animals is “astonishing, having in mind the abundance of research carried out in the field of animal biotechnology” (Christ & Schürker, 2003).

Research projects dealing with the development of transgenic livestock are granted much subsidy from both industry and state. “In the beginning there was an euphoria about the new technical possibilities. Research concerning the risks of genetic modifications for human health, the environment or the transgenic animals themselves was therefore not undertaken” (Christ & Schürker, 2003). Nor is it today, and therefore there is a great knowledge deficiency concerning the risks.

A common form of experiment is when scientists attempt to create a 'model' by removing or disabling a gene. The effects of this cannot be predicted in advance, for example, researchers may assume that removing a receptor gene for thrombin (a blood-clotting enzyme) in mice will affect their control of blood coagulation, but only by creating the animals can they discover that such a deletion causes half of the altered embryos to bleed from multiple sites so that they die in the womb. (Griffin et al, 2001) Other mice have been produced with no legs, with only one eye or with grossly deformed organs. (BUAV Campaign Report, Summer 2000)

Even if the failures were overcome and the risks diminished - and that is questionable - the unimaginable suffering brought upon the animals involved can never be justified, and certainly not by the ‘benefits’ claimed by the multinational biotechnology companies and their sponsored scientists. If we assent to this ‘technology’; if we ignore it, we are - in my opinion - no longer human. These GE animal experiments are without question among the cruelest and most sadistic forms of animal exploitation existing today. They must be stopped.

But won’t GE cure diseases like cancer?

Sometimes, the claim is made that GE experiments on animals are ‘necessary’ in order to find cures for human diseases, such as cancer, AIDS etc. These ‘scientists’ work on the premise that human conditions can be replicated in mice simply by giving them a human gene or two. That is of course, a false premise. For example, none of the current 'cystic fibrosis' mouse strains accurately models the human condition, in which the major symptoms are excess mucus in the lungs, leading to lung infections. The mice, in contrast, suffer principally from bowel disorders and are clearly not a very helpful model of the disease. (Dorin et al, 1992)

Many human cancers have been 'replicated' in animals by inserting some of the genes involved. 'One might expect that these animals would mimic human symptoms, not just the genetic mutations. In fact, that is usually the exception, not the rule.' (Jacks,1997). Even the industry's own Lab Animal (June 2001, Vol 30 no.6 p13) magazine stated, 'Mice are actually poor models of the majority of human cancers.'

The whole concept of modeling diseases on the basis of their genetic component alone is fundamentally flawed. Yes, genetics do play a role to our susceptibility to many diseases, but factors such as diet, lifestyle and environmental pollution are far more important in determining whether or not we will succumb to a particular disease at a particular time. Most of us in fact, are carrying the genes for a variety of serious diseases right now, but we are not suffering from these diseases. This is because these 'disease genes' are not switched on unless triggered through, for instance, exposure to cigarette smoke, a high-fat diet or some other environmental risk factor.

It should also be remembered that a mouse with a gene for a human disease is still a mouse, whose 30,000 or so ‘mouse genes’ will affect the expression and behaviour of the inserted gene. The gene will perform in a completely different way in the mouse from the way it is expressed in its natural human environment.

There is one more issue. Research clearly shows that the brains of animals housed in standard barren laboratory cages are severely abnormal. (Garner, 2001) The sheer boredom of cage life literally drives them insane, causing brain damage, which must surely render much accepted research invalid. (Meek, 2001)

And if all that wasn’t enough to make one sick, there remains the fact that transgenic rats and mice are used in toxicity tests, (for example, measuring the carcinogenic potential of various chemicals, in which the animals are manipulated to be genetically susceptible to cancer). Wouldn’t human hazard be better predicted by using human cells? 'Toxicogenomics' (or pharmacogenetics) is a new technique using DNA arrays: tiny glass plates covered with a matrix of DNA fragments, which are washed over with fluorescent 'probes' that can detect which fragments have been affected by the substance in question. Thousands of chips can be processed in a matter of hours. The results are more accurate and sensitive than animal tests and (when human DNA is used) are directly relevant to humans. (Lovett, 2000)

Confined to the lab?

“As a matter of principle, the risk that genes from transgenic farm animals are incorporated into wild populations by pairing exists for all transgenic livestock. Furthermore the outcrossing into other herds of livestock is also possible”. (Christ & Schürkens, 2003)

With species such as fish, wild boars (Sus scrofa) and rabbits for example, this risk is particularly high. Rabbits can escape relatively easy from enclosures and possess a very high reproduction potential. In Australia wild rabbit that had developed a resistance to myxomatosis could explosively propagate at the end of the eighties of the last century. The consequences for the affected ecosystems were very severe.

Fish are farmed in the direct surroundings of its wild co-specifics. Reports of escapes from aquaculture systems where fish is kept in cages are quite common. Millions of farmed salmon could escape from aquacultures in Canada, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Scotland, the USA and the Faroer Islands. Farmed salmons from aquaculture endanger the declining populations of wild Atlantic salmon by spreading of parasites and diseases. Additionally populations of Atlantic salmon that are well adapted to their habitat are endangered by a contamination of their gene pool with genes from farmed salmon. This means that genes that are unfavourable for the survival of the species may enter into wild populations of Atlantic salmon. (Christ & Schürkens, 2003).

Gathering Force

Worldwide, literally billions of dollars are spent on research and development of genetically modified plants, approximately in a 2:1 ratio (private sector:governments) - ‘private sector’ referring to large multinational corporations. When one considers that, it is not surprising that the mass media globally tends to promote GE technologies. The death rates - 85 – 99% - are never mentioned, neither are the unplanned mutations, the endless suffering or the deplorable conditions. Even when scientists achieve their objectives, the animals suffer. But we are told none of these things. If we were, public outrage would shut these operations down once and for all – and rightly so! But we are not, and this ‘research’ is quietly gathering force. Furthermore, the technology is no longer only confined to the laboratory. Cloned beef is already on sale in Japan and in the US and Canada genetically engineered animals have already – ‘accidentally’, it is claimed, – entered the food chain.

But it does not have to be like this. You, as an individual, can help to put an end to this madness. Below are some ideas to get you started:

  • Do not buy meat from animals that have been genetically modified or cloned.
  • If you hear of a company selling meat, fish or milk from genetically modified animals, write to them highlighting the cruelty mentioned above. If the Chief Executive of the company refuses to take action, petitions can be very useful.
  • Write letters to your local press, telling them of the welfare implications of genetic modification and asking the public to boycott animal products from genetically modified species and animal testing in general.

These facts are unknown – even among animal rights activists - so if you, the reader, are in any way serious about the well-being of animals, I strongly urge you to inform as many people as possible about this issue.

The last point is particularly important. If people were aware of the facts, demand for GE animal products would be very small indeed! Hence, companies would not produce them as it would not be profitable to do so. Nor is there hope for the sick in this kind of ‘research’. Even if there were, after literally billions of animals had been tortured and mutilated to death, eventually a success – and as we have seen, that is very doubtful indeed – could it be morally justified, when treatments and cures for diseases can be better obtained by other means?

Public outrage has been significant in reducing conventional animal testing over the past decades. It can be so again. Spreading the truth will help to end this needless suffering. Personally, I would call it a moral duty to act against this violation of life – especially so for people who care about animals. If this insidious technology isn’t stopped now, it will, like the atomic bomb, become a permanent shadow over our world. We cannot treat animals like this. We do not have that right. Please do not stand by and let it happen.

Bibliography and Resources

AMMANN, D. & VOGEL, B. (2000): Transgene Nutztiere. Landwirtschaft – Gene Pharming – Klonen.

AMOAH, E.A. & GELAYE, S. (1997): Biotechnological advances in goat reproduction. Journal of Animal Sciences, 75: 578-585.

BREM, G. & MÜLLER, M. (1994): Large transgenic animals. In: Animals with novel genes. Maclean, N. (ed.); Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 179-233.

CHRIST H. & SCHÜRKENS S., “Transgenic Livestock”, Genetic Engineering Newsletter – Special Issue 13, produced by the Institute for Applied Ecology, July 2003. *

COGHLAN, A., “One small step for a sheep...” New Scientist, March 1, 1997


SCHWARTZ, R.J. (1995): Regulatory sequences from the avian skeletal a-actin gene directs high level expression of human insulin-like growth factor-I cDNA in skeletal muscle of transgenic pigs. Journal of Animal Science, 73: pp 145.

DORIN, J.R. et al, Nature, 1992 Vol 359 p211-215

GARNER J., Nature, 16th August 2001 Vol 412 p669

GIBSON, Y. & COLMAN, A. (1997): The generation of transgenic sheep by pronuclear mikroinjection. Houdebine, L.M. (ed); Harwood Academic Publishers, Amsterdam, pp. 23-25.


F.H.(1980): Genetic transformation of mouse embryos by microinjection of purified DNA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 77: 7380-7384.

GRIFFIN C. et al, Science Vol 293 (5535) p1666, 31st August 2001

JACKS, T. , Science, 7th November 1997, Vol 278 p1041

LOVETT, R.A., Science, 28th July 2000 Vol 289 (5479) p536-37

MEEK J., The Guardian, 28th August 2001

MEIER, M.S., TEUFEL, J., HILBECK, A., TAPPESER, B. (2003): Transgene Tiere: Nutzung, Risiken und Möglichkeiten der Risikovermeidung.

POOLE, T., Animals, Alternatives and Ethics (eds Zutphen & Balls) Elsevier, 1997 p277-82

SEAMARK, R.F. (2003): Review on the Current Status of the Extent and Use of Cloning in Animal Production in Australia and New Zealand.

Quality Informational Websites: - shows a video highlighting the current risks and future dangers of the genetic modification of farm animals. - discusses in detail, and from a scientific perspective, the range of GE animal experiments currently undertaken.

Special thanks to Animal Aid UK for their contribution to this article.

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