Biotech head-trips

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1997:

LONDON––British journals and
news media in late October and early
November 1997 disclosed either the promises
of eternal life and meat without suffering,
or the separation of soul from body by latterday
Dr. Frankensteins––or maybe all three at
once, some commentators ventured.
But as Halloween came and went,
announcements of successful headless
cloning experiments and behavior-changing
brain tissue transplants generated surprisingly
little of the excitement that accompanied the
February 23 announcement of the first successful
cloning of a mammal from adult cells,
a ewe named Dolly, born at the Roslin
Institute in Scotland.

Indeed, the longest article on biotechnology
distributed by U.S. mass media
during the weeks just before and after Halloween
may have been an account by B o s t o n
G l o b e science writer Richard Saltus of a
November 4 speech by Roslin Institute
researcher Ian Wilmut, the genetic designer
of Dolly. Wilmut told a packed house at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology that
Dolly will be conventionally mated this winter
to see if she bears normal offspring.
Human intervention in the sex life
of a celebrity sheep evidently interested
Americans more than some of the most sensational
head surgery since the French
Revolution decapitated Church and crown.
Headless cloning advanced toward
reality, the London Sunday Times r e v e a l e d
on October 18, reporting that Bath University
embryologist Jonathan Slack had created a
headless but otherwise viable frog embryo.
The method, explained a Canadian
Press summary, “may lead to the production
of headless human clones to grow organs and
tissue for transplant. The genetic composition
of grown organs would match those of
the patient, eliminating the risk of rejection.
It would also ease the shortage of organs for
transplant. Growing partial embryos to cultivate
customized organs could bypass legal
restrictions and ethical concerns,” speculated
CP, “because without a brain or central nervous
system, the organisms may not technically
qualify as embryos.”
Mentioning the Dolly cloning

which came as part of an agricultural experiment, the Sunday
T i m e s dwelled on the obviously lucrative replacement organ
industry while overlooking a potentially far broader application
of brainless biotech: the production of factory-farmed animals
who literally lack the mental capacity to feel stress and pain
from overcrowding, lack of exercise, and rough treatment.
As International Wildlife Coalition program director
Steve Best pointed out during the 1988 Canada/U.S. Study
Group meeting on transborder animal issues, the creation of
mindless poultry, hogs, and cattle might solve many of the
major logistic problems inherent in close-confinement animal
husbandry––and could prove problematic to those who argue
against meat-eating wholly on humanitarian grounds. Eating an
animal who was never sentient might still be repugnant and
immoral, Best explained, but it would be difficult to call the
production, slaughter, and consumption of such animals cruel,
especially when their use might prevent suffering by animals of
natural needs and instincts.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the most widely distributed
U.S. coverage of the ethical issues raised by headless cloning
may have been a cartoon by Tom Toles of The Buffalo News,
syndicated by United Press International, which showed a man
introducing a bio-engineered headless “girlfriend who doesn’t
mind being thought of as a sexual object.”
In March, soon after the announcement of the Dolly
cloning, U.S. President Bill Clinton suspended federal funding
of human cloning research. On June 8, with the subject still
prominent, Clinton proposed legislation to ban cloning “for the
purposes of creating a child,” and to direct the National
Bioethics Advisory Commission to report by January 1, 2002,
safely after his term of office and the next presidential election,
as to whether the ban should continue. Republican
Congressional leaders demanded a tougher bill. But public discussion
of reproductive ethics shifted within a few weeks to the
shape of Clinton’s own male organ, in connection with the sexual
harassment charge brought against him by Arkansas secretary
Paula Jones. Biotech seemed forgotten––at least in
Washington D.C. and mass media.
If it walks like a duck…
Reporting from the annual meeting of the Society for
Neuroscience in New Orleans, Daily Telegraph science editor
Roger Highfield on October 28 induced further dreams and
nightmares, among those who paid attention, in revealing that
neuroscientists Kevin Long and Evan Balaban, of La Jolla,
California, recently transplanted brain tissue from a quail
embryo into a chicken embryo, producing a chicken who
responds to the calls of a mother quail instead of those of a hen.
Earlier, Long and Balaban developed a chicken who
bobs her head and sings like a quail.
“This is the first time a perceptual difference has been
transplanted between any two organisms,” Long said.
The experiment is helping scientists to map the brains
of both birds and humans, contributing to the development of
genetic blueprints which will detail the relationship between
mental structure and function. This has potential application in
treating and preventing human brain diseases––and also in the
modification of brains to achieve bio-engineered mind control.
It may be that amending how people think is easier
than changing what they think, and that inducing a change in
the thought process can produce changes in perception with the
potential to perhaps eradicate schizophrenia on the one hand,
and produce soldiers without conscience on the other.
Long promised that such “chimeric work on humans
would never be done,” at least not by his team, but there is little
way of controlling what others may do with discovery.
Already some researchers are experimenting with
transgenic transplants as a means of treating Parkinson’s
Disease, an affliction affecting as many as a million Americans
and countless others around the world. Parkinson’s Disease is
believed to be caused by the failure of brain tissue to produce
dopamine, a type of chemical messenger.
The October edition of the journal Nature Medicine
described how “rats with a condition similar to Parkinson’s
showed a marked easing of symptoms after they got transplants
of testicular cells from other rats,” summarized Associated
Press science writer Malcolm Ritter. The transplanted cells
normally nourish other cells that grow into sperm, and fight off
antibodies, which might otherwise treat sperm cells as foreign
invaders within the producing animal’s body.
“Pigs would be the leading candidate
to supply cells for people,” Paul
Sandberg of the University of South Florida
College of Medicine in Tampa told Ritter.
According to Ritter, other scientists
“are studying transplants of fetal cells into the
brain to produce dopamine, but that raises
questions of ethics and limited supply.”
The fetal cells used in transplants
thus far have come from human embryos
aborted for reasons of nonviability. But so
few such embryos are available that any
expanded use of the technique might require
taking cells from viable embryos aborted by
choice––which would run afoul of Congressional
restraints on fetal tissue research, and
would throw researchers into the national controversy
over abortion rights.
The undead
Halloween myth holds that ghosts
return to the Great Beyond after All Saints Day, but T h e
Sunday Times came back November 2 with a sensational report
by medical correspondent Lois Rogers about head transplant
experiments by Robert White, 71, a professor of neurosurgery
at Case Western University in Cleveland, longtime science
advisor to the Vatican, and avid defender of animal use in
According to Rogers, White had published “the latest
developments in a 20-year project” in “an American scientific
journal,” which she did not name. She did, however, obtain a
string of horrified quotes from leading British scientists and
ethicists, none of whom seemed to recognize that the “latest
developments” Rogers cited had apparently resulted from
experiments actually performed between 1963 and 1968, when
White killed approximately 30 rhesus macacques in the attempt
to make the head of one animal live on the body of another.
Then-Washington Post health writer Larry Thompson
reported in 1988 that White built on work begun by a French
scientist who in 1887 tried to graft the heads of newly guillotined
prisoners to the bodies of large dogs. Russian
researchers tried to keep severed dogs’ heads alive by mechnical
means in 1912. That inspired Bolshevik medical doctor
Mikail Bulgakov to lampoon both his own profession and the
scientism of the Soviet state a decade later in Heart Of A Dog,
the first of several works that eventually inspired the dictator
Josef Stalin to exile him to his 1940 death of deprivation.
“In 1964,” Thompson continued, “Dr. David Gilboe
of the University of Wisconsin in Madison reported decapitating
15 dogs and keeping the heads alive with pumps.”
By then, White had already transplanted a
macacque’s head to another body. News media said the head
appeared conscious after awakening from anesthesia, snapped
at researchers’ hands, and lived more than a week. The claim
that at least one of White’s transplanted heads survived a week
has been echoed often, including by White.
But Thompson, apparently after investigating medical
literature, reported that “The longest surviving Case
Western monkey lived only 36 hours.”
Because White could not successfully link the nerves
from one animal’s spine to another’s brain, none of the heads
ever had any control of bodily functions. The bodies to which
they were attached were in effect just biological pumps, circulating
blood to the mute heads much as Gilboe’s machines did.
By 1970, appalled colleagues reportedly saw to it
that White’s head transplant work never again got funding.
Fellow Case Western neurosurgeon Jerry Silver told
Thompson that the transplants were “fairly barbaric,” and
wouldn’t lead to a practical, viable, or ethical response to
human illness or injury even “100 years from now.”
Rogers found, a decade later, that Silver’s verdict is
now virtually universally echoed.
But, White told Rogers, “I have no doubt that this
treatment will be available in the public area within the next 25
to 30 years. There will be a lot of ethical and moral arguments,
but I think they are inappropriate. What we are trying to do
here is to prolong life. The human spirit or soul is within the
physical structure of the brain.”
What sex does to men’s brains
Surgeons in 1963 were just discovering the complexities
of tissue rejection. Geneticists first synthesized biologically
active DNA in 1967, achieving thereby the first step toward
genetic engineering. The combined implications of tissue
rejection and the possibility of growing rather than just transplanting
replacement parts were not weighed in serious scientific
literature for several more years.
It is clear, however, that the surgical and mechanical
approach to prolonging life that White took is now professionally
viewed as obsolete––not necessarily for ethical, moral, or
economic reasons, but because it has been supplanted.
Similarly crude surgical experiments are still done in
search of specific information about bodily function, especially
by neurologists, whose work often produces the background
used to do genetic research. Los Angeles Times science writer
Robert Lee Hotz on October 23 translated into plain English a
description of an experiment by University of California at
Berkeley neuroscientist Marc Breedlove, reported in that day’s
edition of the British journal Nature. Breedlove, Hotz wrote,
“discovered that the brain cells controlling movement in male
rats could be changed by altering their sexual behavior. He
compared animals who were sexually active with those who
were not. He focussed on a bundle of nerve cells at the base of
the spinal cord, called the SNB complex, that is active during
copulation in controlling the penis. To eliminate the effects of
differing hormone levels on their behavior, the male rats were
castrated and then were implanted with testosterone capsules to
keep them interested in sex. One group was put in a cage with
female rats who were given hormones to be continually receptive,
while a control group was kept with unreceptive females.”
After a month, the castrated rats were killed and their
brains dissected. The SNB nerve cells of the sexually active
rats proved to be much smaller.
Explained Breedlove, “These findings give us proof
for what we theoretically know to be the case––that sexual
experience can alter the structure of the brain, just as genes can
alter it. It is possible that differences in sexual behavior cause,
rather than are caused by, differences in brain structure.”
Foes of public acceptance of homosexuality immediately
seized upon the Breedlove research as evidence that
homosexuals are not born but made, and can be “cured” of
“perverse” conduct by forbidding the “perverse” behavior.
Apparently no commentators immediately recognized
the extent to which the implications of the Breedlove experiment
were contradicted just five days later by the findings of
Long and Balaban in their work with quail and chickens. While
Breedlove claimed in essence that his project demonstrated the
primacy of mind over matter, Long and Balaban showed the
influence of matter on mind––and all of them may have illustrated
mainly the adaptive capacity of life.
These days, most observers suspect neurologic
experimentation has value chiefly in pinpointing the functions

and controlling mechanisms of physiological
structures, which will then be altered in cureseeking
and in agricultural use primarily by
genetic means. In effect, neurosurgeons are
expected to become to medicine as mechanics
are to cars: they may diagnose problems,
effect emergency repairs, and install replacement
parts, but the parts are increasingly likely
to be “from the factory.”
The Roslin Institute, on a roll since
cloning Dolly, has claimed the most recent
breakthroughs toward growing human parts.
In March, Roslin’s commercial arm,
PPL Therapeutics, inseminated 100 New
Zealand ewes with semen from rams modified
to carry a human gene. The object is to raise a
flock of 4,000 milking ewes who will pass
along the human protein alpha-1-antitypsin,
used in treating cystic fibrosis, atopic dermatitis,
and emphysema. The Roslin Institute had
already bred transgenic sheep who passed
along the protein through four generations.
A few days later, the Roslin team
disclosed efforts to clone pigs and cattle,
using the same process that produced Dolly,
and showed off a rabbit genetically modified
to pass along a salmon protein in her milk.
The salmon protein helps the rabbit to produce
an analog to a human protein, calcitonin,
which helps to control calcium loss from
bones, and is used in treating osteoporosis.
In mid-April, Roslin Institute assistant
director Harry Griffin announced the successful
pregnancy of two sheep who were
cloned by embryonic division, a less advanced
process than was used to conceive Dolly.
After the sheep gave birth, the institute
revealed on July 25 that the lambs had been
modified so as to carry a human gene in every
cell of their bodies.
“After Dolly, everyone would have
predicted this, but they were saying it would
happen in five to 10 years,” Princeton
University molecular geneticist Lee Silver told
Gina Kolata of The New York Times. “Genetic
engineering of human beings is now really on
the horizon.”
A particularly important implication
of this latest Roslin breakthrough is that
geneticists now have the tools to modify animals
so that their organs can be accepted by
human patients without risk of rejection.
Explained PPL scientific director
Alan Colman to Kolata, “In the case of the
pig,” whose organs are otherwise fairly close
matches to human organs, “it is known that
one major reason that pig organs are rejected
by the human circulation is that there is a particular
sugar on the surface of pig organs.”
Picked up Kolata, “Many investigators
expect that if they can remove the pig
gene responsible for adding that sugar molecule,
the pig organs will be more readily
accepted by humans.”
That would be the breakthrough
Alexion Pharmaceuticals has been seeking,
with heavy backing by U.S. Surgical Inc.–– a
firm noted for both accurate assessment of
profitable trends in medicine, and for underwriting
counterattacks on antivivisectionism
and animal rights. U.S. Surgical cashed in big
on the advent of surgical stapling in the 1970s
and arthroscopry in the 1980s. Transplants
may be the next mega-opportunity. Now
worth $2.9 billion, the transplant market could
jump to $20.3 billion if enough organs were
available to treat all potential recipients, the
Institute of Medicine estimates.
The W.R. Grace empire is also lining
up for a piece of the action. A new subsidiary,
Circe Biomedical Inc., is reportedly
setting up a $20 million network in New
England consisting of three high-tech pig
farms and a special slaughterhouse to process
pigs’ livers for transplant.
The use of pig-grown organs might
still be inhibited by PERVs, short for Pig
Endogenous Retrovirus, a family of genetically
transmitted pig diseases with potential to
infect humans, discovered in mid-1996.
However, eliminating PERVs is generally seen
in the genetic engineering field as another
problem which might best be solved by simply
knocking out and replacing particular pig
genes with human genes.
On October 6, North-western Memorial
Hospital and Baxter Healthcare began a clinical
trial of the use of pig livers as emergency
replacements, to keep transplant candidates
alive while awaiting livers from human
donors. An irony of the project is that the
donor pigs––involuntary donors, to be sure––
are fed a strictly vegetarian diet, to cut their
risk of passing along any animal viruses.
But advances against transplant rejection
may limit the demand for pigs as organ
donors. On August 5, Lieutenant Commander
Allan D. Kirk and Captain David M. Harlan of
the U.S. Naval Medical Research Institute
announced that they had used synthetic antibodies
to deactivate the immune cells in monkeys
that would otherwise have rejected each
other’s organs. This potentially means any
human could receive a donated organ from any
other human, and could do so without having
to take anti-rejection drugs throughout the rest
of his/her life. Such drugs suppress the whole
immune system, rendering transplant recipients
exceptionally vulnerable to
infection––and, for largely unknown reasons,
to diabetes, osteoporosis, and kidney failure.
Kirk and Harlan believe human
organ recipients will routinely use synthetic
antibodies to avoid rejection within five years.
Genetically engineered vaccines,
proteins, and hormones are already widely
used. Much research in these areas involves
finding ways of producing greater quantities of
the genetically engineered products, at less
cost. That’s the aim of the Roslin efforts to
produce genetically modified milk, and of
similar work by Genzyme Transgenics
Corporation and Advanced Cell Technology
Inc., of Framingham and Worcester,
Massachusetts, who are cloning cattle to produce
transgenic milk in unprecedented bulk.
Yale University scored two late summer
and early fall breakthroughs in the therapeutic
use of genetically modified microorganisms.
First, on September 5, John K. Rose
M.D. and colleagues announced that they had
redesigned a cattle virus to make it attack the
HIV virus, which is believed to cause AIDS.
“The approach is especially interesting,”
wrote Nicholas Wade of The New York
Times, “because unlike drugs, to which HIV
can develop resistance by reshaping its component
parts, the engineered virus attacks a feature
that HIV probably cannot alter without
rendering itself harmless: the probe with
which it gains access to human cells.”
Two months later, on October 10,
Yale cancer biologist John M. Pawelek
announced his successful genetic modification
of the sometimes deadly salmonella bacteria to
produce an anti-cancer agent.
The modified salmonella, altered to
feed exclusively on tumors, were first tested
in mice. “After the salmonella are introduced
into the mouse blood stream, they seek out
tumors, multiply there in great numbers,
and––by mechanisms not fully understood––
dramatically slow the rate of tumor growth and
prolong life,” Pawelek told Brigitte Greenberg
of Associated Press. The modified salmonella
don’t harm the mice. Pawelek expects to soon
seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration permission
to try the technique on humans.
The figurative Holy Grail of genetic
biomedical research is to find a way for
humans to grow their own replacement parts.
When that can be done, it may be possible to
induce self-repair and replication of deteriorating
organs by noninvasive, non-ethically
problematic means. Living forever might be
accomplished without taking the lives of other
beings––with or without brains.
But that goal is still distant––maybe.
Chromos Molecular Systems Inc. opened on
University of British Columbia property in
April 1997. The initial
Chromos product was to be
synthetic chromosomes for
use in making transgenic
milk. However, Chromos
president Henry Geraedts
told Vancouver Sun science
reporter Margaret Munro
that the firm might also sell
“artificial chromosomes
capable of doing genetic
repair jobs” in people suffering
from such genetic
disorders as cystic fibrosis and
Huntington’s disease––possibly
by the end of 1998.
No biomedical
research and development now
comes without a steep price in
animal use, both in experiments
and in safety-testing new products.
But the surge in pharmaceutical
research and development
resulting from biotech has
been paralleled in the engineered evolution of
laboratory animals, who much more precisely
replicate human medical conditions than random-bred
In 1997 alone:
• A Johns Hopkins University team
transgenically modified mice to grow extralarge
muscles, of potential value in studying
muscular dystrophy and other muscle-wasting
diseases. Johns Hopkins molecular biologist
and geneticist Se-Jin Lee compounded the
concerns of humanitarians by suggesting,
however, that the same technique might be
used to “create cows and chickens with more
meat and relatively less fat.”
• The Central Laboratories for Key
Technology at the Kirin Brewery in
Yokahoma, Japan announced discovery of a
way to insert not just single human genes but
whole chromosomes into mice––50 times
more genetic material than could previously be
transferred––and the mice passed the modification,
apparent in every cell of their bodies,
to their offspring.
• Cell Genesys Inc., of Foster City,
California, found a way to get human bloodclotting
DNA to work in the livers of mice, a
possible advance in researching hemophilia.
• The World Health Organization
announced the development of mice engineered
to be vulnerable to polio. This enables
the replacement of monkeys in testing batches
of polio vaccine, and is expected to cut the
cost of producing polio vaccine so much that
enough can be produced to possibly eradicate
polio––permently––within two more years.
• Washington University in St.
Louis engineered a mouse to permit intensified
study of Duchenne muscular dystrophy,
a disease that mostly
strikes boys, tending to kill them
before the age of 20.
• The National Institute of
Neuroscience, in Tokyo, discovered
a means of accelerating aging
in mice by knocking out a “klotho”
gene. Dying of conditions of age
within two months of birth, the
mice may be used in researching
hardening of the arteries, osteoporosis,
and emphysema.
• The University of Rochester, New
York, produced mice who replicate human
prostate disease.
• University of Alabama and
University of California/Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory teams developed mice
who replicate sickle cell anemia, a disease
afflicting mainly Afro-American and Hispanic
• Rival teams at Osaka University in
Japan and Stanford University in California
unveiled luminescent mice, whose internal
organs can be noninvasively examined under
ultraviolet light. This may sharply reduce the
numbers of mice who are killed in experiments
in order to measure induced physical change.
Breedlove, for instance, would not have had
to kill the mice used in his study of sexuality.
The luminescence is transferred through normal
reproduction. Luminescent rabbits and
primates are reportedly in development.
Many of the genetic modifications
cause particular mice to suffer perhaps lifelong
misery. But fewer of these genetically engineered
animals are used in each experiment to
obtain results extrapolated to human subjects.
Instead of just seeking animal models, a major
goal of much disease research, scientists may
now be able to attack the diseases themselves.
Thus––independent of any gains in
actually preventing or curing disease––the
number of suffering creatures should diminish
somewhat with each biomedical breakthrough.
USDA Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service statistics indicate that animal
use in American laboratories is rapidly
declining, coinciding with the accelerating

pace of transgenic discovery. Of the six species whose use has
been tabulated annually since 1973, use of dogs fell to 82,454
in fiscal 1996, 39% of the 1979 high; use of cats fell to
26,035, 37% of the 1976 high; use of guinea pigs fell to
299,011, 50% of the 1985 high; use of hamsters fell to
246,415, 49% of the 1976 high; and use of rabbits fell to
338,574, 61% of the 1987 high. Each 1996 figure was a new
low, for the third straight year. Only use of primates was
up––to 52,327, 4% more than in 1995––and that was still 15%
below the 1987 high.
Primate use has tended to remain steady since 1973
in part because primates are more often used in long-term studies,
more and more of which have genetic aspects.
The USDA does not tabulate mouse and rat use, but
some research institutions do publish mouse and rat statistics.
These seem to parallel the general trends.
Similar data is emerging from Great Britain and
Japan: more experiments being done, yet fewer animals used
per experiment, leading to declining use overall.
Down on the farm
Biotechnology has also contributed to a 24% drop
since 1991 in the number of U.S. dairy farms, and a less steep
but still steady decline in the number of milk cows, which has
in turn helped to cut the numbers of calves sold for veal. The
genetically engineered hormone bovine somatatrophin, which
boosts milk production per cow, won federal approval for general
use in 1994, but is just part of the story. In fact, virtually
every advance in reproductive technology of any kind over the
past 20 years may be traced in part to projects aimed at creating
bigger and more productive milk cows.
The University of Missouri in July 1997 used a combination
of test-tube fertilization with semen-sorting, developed
in connection with dairy research, to produce genderselected
hog litters. This could enable farmers to breed allfemale
litters, eliminating the common practice of castrating
boar piglets soon after birth without anesthetic. The method
could also be used by human parents to gender-select their children––but
inventor Bill Day didn’t want to discuss that.
Two other summer 1997 biotech advances promise to
find a way around the problem of antibiotics losing their effectiveness
as result of farmers routinely dosing livestock to stimulate
growth, cut feed costs, and prevent infections from
spreading through crowded barns. University of Wisconsin
poultry scientist Mark Cook has reportedly developed genetically
modified hens who produce egg yolks with antibodies
which have the same effect in cattle as antibiotics, without
encouraging the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The
special yolks could become a standard cattle feed additive.
Nobel Laureate Sydney Altman, of Yale, meanwhile genetically
engineered an antibiotic additive which might prevent
bacteria from evolving resistance to them.
Such investigations gained urgency in October when
Hunter Area Pathology Service director John Ferguson told the
Australian Society for Microbiology that widespread use of the
antibiotic avoparcin by the beef and poultry industries could be
directly linked to the 1994 emergence of vancomycin-resistant
bacteria in Australian hospitals. Vancomycin was considered
the antibiotic of last resort in treating infections which resist all
other antibiotics. The Australian Society for Microbiology
called for a national ban on agricultural use of avoparcin, similar
to bans already in effect in the U.S. and adopted by the
European Union in April.
Australian sheep producers are using biotech in a
more traditional pursuit, enlisting DNA tracing to help eliminate
black sheep from their flocks. Black wool is in less
demand because it resists dye. Black lambs are usually killed,
but since the gene for black wool is recessive in most merino
sheep, eliminating sheep with problematic random black hairs
has proved elusive.
Disaster potential
Competition to achieve biotech breakthroughs is now
so keen that the environmental security of experiments is
almost assured. Institutions with the funding to pursue complex
genetic research also have a strong interest in confining their
projects to their own laboratories, safe from industrial espionage.
This could change as new procedures are routinely
replicated in commercial manufacturing. Growing industries
typically try to raise profits by siting factories in places with
much cheap labor, and weak or corruptible environmental and
occupational safety standards. Thus the makers of biotech
products may eventually export potentially hazardous processes
to locales which may be ill-prepared to cope with the risk.
The evolution of the chemical industry provides a
recent high-tech parallel. In the U.S. alone, clean-ups of carelessly
disposed chemical manufacturing waste and coping with
the aftermath of chemical manufacturing accidents have cost
more than $35 billion since 1984. Yet all of the U.S. disasters
combined were only a fraction as devastating as the single accident
on December 3, 1984 at the Union Carbide pesticide manufacturing
plant in Bhopal, India.
As many as 250,000 Bhopal residents were exposed
to lethal methyl isocyanate: 200,000 were injured; 30,000 to
40,000 people suffered debilitating injury; 2,347 people were
killed outright; and another 1,000 people died from their
injuries during the next three years. The impact on animals,
both wild and domestic, may never be known.
Other chemical manufacturing incidents have killed,
maimed, and polluted around the globe. Chemical manufacturing,
on the whole, has improved economies, increased food
production, and extended human longevity. Wildlife has benefited
overall, despite the adverse effects of pesticides on birds,
especially, because chemical use in agriculture has enabled
farmers to produce more food from less land, decreasing
human pressure on much sensitive habitat. That, in turn,
meant the bird species most harmed by first-generation pesticides
such as DDT have had somewhere to recover in the years
since the use of DDT and other particularly damaging pesticides
was curtailed.
Biotech vs. suffering
On balance, even considering the animal suffering in
laboratories during chemical product research and safety testing,
chemical manufacturing has reduced human and perhaps
animal suffering overall, by reducing the incidence of disease
and famine. Despite the great collateral damage done by excessive
and/or inappropriate use of pesticides, chemical use may
prevent much habitat damage, especially soil erosion resulting
from extra tillage that chemical soil treatments make unnecessary.
Yet beyond the trade-offs of liabilities and benefits that
come with any introduction of change, chemical manufacturing
has also exacted an accidental toll that foresight and considerate
conduct should have avoided.
Biotechnology brings comparable promise, and comparable
risks. Some of the same firms are involved, for
instance Bristol-Myers Squibb, which was fined $3.5 million
in April 1992 for polluting Onandaga Lake, near Syracuse,
New York, and was ordered to spend as much as $30 million
to avoid causing further pollution.
The potential for an insufficiently contained bio-engineered
virus escaping to cause a major epidemic has already
inspired countless science fiction books and films, as well as
widespread rumors that such diseases as AIDS resulted from
biotechnology experiments gone awry.
On the other hand, it is worthwhile to recall that
one of the first triumphs of genetic engineering was an oral
rabies vaccine developed by the Swiss Rabies Centre in 1972.
Unlike previous rabies vaccines, the oral vaccine could be put
into bait pellets and used to immunize wild animals. It has
been used to eradicate fox rabies in western Europe, a variant
has proved equally successful against raccoon rabies in the
northeastern U.S., and the possibility of extinguishing rabies
over broad regions has inspired the World Health Organization
to begin a drive to wipe out rabies, beginning in Europe and
North Africa. Few diseases have caused more public terror,
more agony––albeit usually brief––in the victims, or more
panic-driven massacres of animals by people who mistakenly
think that just reducing the numbers of healthy animals may
reduce the chance that rabies will spread.
Paradoxically, when the oral rabies vaccine first
came to the U.S., the Foundation on Economic Trends, which
is sympathetic to animal rights, and the National Wildlife
Federation, the national umbrella for 49 state hunting clubs,
both fought deployment. Biotech critics Jeremy Rifkin and
Andrew Kimbrell, of FET, were concerned that allowing the
release of a genetically engineered product into the wild could
set a dangerous precedent for risky use of other genetic technology.
Professing similar concerns, NWF may have actually
been more worried about losing a popular pretext for hunting
and trapping. The NWF was passively supported by The
Nature Conservancy.
The various organizations used legal and political
tactics to delay use of the oral rabies vaccine in the U.S. for
nearly six years. Their actions were endorsed by many animal
welfare groups, some of which also sought a moratorium on
genetic engineering experiments, pending further safeguards.
Several admitted that what they really wanted was to ban all
tampering with the life process. The net effect was
that the animal suffering associated with rabies and
conventional rabies control measures continued, while
researchers went on about tinkering with the biotech
genie, already long since released from any legislative
bottle that might have contained it.
No retreat
No nation encouraging enterprise and tolerating freedom
of inquiry can avoid biotech. Nor is there any
reason why people concerned with reducing human
and animal suffering should categorically reject all
genetic engineering. With due respect to the influence
of moral teaching, it is possible that biotech could do
more in a short while to eliminate suffering than all
the humane education ever conducted––perhaps in
some quite unforseen ways.
Some fear the effect on wildlife, should engineered
species escape human control––which will inevitably
happen, with sometimes harmful effects. On October
21, for instance, the Scottish Crop Research Institute found
that female ladybirds who eat aphids that feed on potatoes
which have been modified to be aphid-resistant lay fewer eggs
and live only half as long as those who eat aphids whose diet
consists of normal potatoes. The decline of the aphid-eating
ladybirds offsets the advantage of making the potatoes aphidresistant.

Certainly biotech will transform our understanding
and appreciation of species interrelationships and biodiversity.
In that example, it already has. But the processes of migration,
adaptation, evolution, hybridization and extinction all went on
for hundreds of millions of years before human existence; are
unlikely to cease because of human intervention; and from
another perspective, it may be only cosmic justice if humans
should create as many new wild species as we have probably
destroyed––especially if some of them should go feral and find
means of harassing us.
In the immediate present, advocates of a strong U.S.
Endangered Species Act have found that one of the most persuasive
arguments to business-oriented legislators is that genes
from imperiled species, no matter how unpopular, small, or
obscure, may have huge economic potential. As a precedent,
sharks recently received increased protection under other legislation,
not for their intrinsic qualities so much as because their
resistance to cancer intrigues lawmakers. Because of the biomedical
potential of shark genetics, shark species should benefit
by somewhat reduced hunting pressure, as might many
other species if the revised ESA now under debate is drafted
with genetic conservation in mind.
The negative side of preserving species to maintain
their genetic traits is that should biotechnology evolve means of
conserving genetic characteristics independent of conserving
actual species, the rationale for protecting endangered species
habitat may be lost, along with the species. Of even greater
worry to humanitarians should be the prospect that if animals
come to be seen only as repositiories of genes, animal wellbeing
may be devalued––but it would be hard to devalue animal
well-being more than already occurs through the practice
of animal agriculture, hunting, fishing, trapping, vivisection,
and the use of animals in abusive sport.
It would seem that what humanitarians have to fear
most from the advent of biotechnology is not a change in the
human relationship with animals, but rather the perpetuation of
present negative attitudes. It is inevitable that the genetic
uniqueness of animals, as well as humans, will be explored
and exploited. Yet recognizing the intrinsic genetic uniqueness
and value of animals, each with different as well as common
traits, could become a foundation for recognizing the inherent
rights of animals as individual sentient parts of creation.
It is essential that the humane movement must
attempt to ensure that whatever Faustian bargains we strike in
pursuit of life forever through genetic engineering involve less
rather than more of selling our own souls to the devil––as we
have already done for millenia––by condemning our fellow
beings to misery and premature death.
––Merritt Clifton
[Adapted from a text prepared for the
Animal Welfare Board of India.]

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