Ethical, Social, Environmental and Economic Issues in Animal Agriculture
Livestock are vital to subsistence farming and sustainable livelihood in most developing countries. Of India’s population of one billion people, more than 70 percent live in the rural areas. India also has more than 30 percent of the world’s bovine population. This has resulted in not only egalitarian ownership of cattle, but also in an almost inseparable cultural and symbiotic relationship between rural families and their farm animals, particularly large ruminants. It is against this scenario that the ethical, social and environmental issues of gene-based technologies need to be carefully evaluated.
The use of transgenic cows with modified milk composition or for any other purpose has little economic benefit in a system of “production by masses”, as typifies India and a few other developing countries, compared with “mass production” systems in developed countries. Rather, the use of rDNA technology for developing drought-resistant fodder and forage crops is likely to bring immediate relief to most regions. Cattle, particularly in India, have poor quality feeds and this results in poor nutrition, with production of large amounts of methane. Immunocastration through biotechnological means would also be advantageous. Developing countries like India need sustainable livelihood security, and, in this regard, gene-based technologies in animal agriculture seem more to raise ethical, social and environmental concerns, rather than being likely to transform “subsistence farming” into vibrant agribusiness. Ethical issues concerning animal welfare, rights and integrity are also discussed, in addition to social, environmental and economic issues.
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