This study considered the range of ethical issues and potential stakeholder priorities associated with the application of genomic technologies applied to animal production systems, in particular those which utilised genomic technologies in accelerated breeding rather than the application of genetic modification. A literature review was used to inform the development of an ethical matrix, which was used to scope the potential perspectives of different agents regarding the acceptability of genomic technologies, as opposed to genetic modification (GM) techniques applied to animal production systems. There are very few studies carried out on stakeholder (including consumer) attitudes regarding the application of genomics to animal production in the human food chain and it may be that this technology is perceived as no more than an extension of traditional breeding techniques. While this is an area which needs more research, it would appear from this study that genomics, because it avoids many of the disadvantages and consumer perceptions associated with GM, is likely to prove a more publicly acceptable route than is GM for the development of healthier and more productive animals. However, stakeholders also need to have an approach to the moral status of the animals involved that finds credibility and acceptability with civil society.
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The first search was conducted on 16 August 2013 in Web of Science, which yielded 72 relevant papers, and on 15 August 2013 in Scopus which yielded 88 relevant papers. After these lists were combined and duplicates removed, 127 papers remained for review.
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An example research project is the Application of genomics to improve swine health and welfare project (http://www.swineimprovement.com/). The international project aimed at identifying genes related to disease susceptibility for two major global diseases in pigs has numerous objectives such as the potential for reducing antibiotic use in pigs, enhanced quality of pig life through disease resistance and reduced emotional and economic costs for producers. The possibilities for identifying the specific combinations of genes that identify disease susceptibility are limited, due to complexity and issues related to heritability. In this project an international multidisciplinary consortium of researchers is attempting to combine information and analytical tools to identify specific areas of the genetic code to focus on for these diseases. As the research advances it may become possible to select animals with higher levels of disease resistance in breeding reducing the incidence of the diseases globally.
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This research was supported by grants from Genome Alberta (Grant No SFR 3374) “Application of genomics to improving swine health and welfare” and (Grant No SFR2374) “Whole genome selection though genome imputation of beef cattle”.
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Coles, D., Frewer, L.J. & Goddard, E. Ethical Issues and Potential Stakeholder Priorities Associated with the Application of Genomic Technologies Applied to Animal Production Systems. J Agric Environ Ethics 28, 231–253 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-015-9529-z
- Genomic technology
- Genetic modification
- Animal production
- Ethical matrix