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Five Ways GE Animals Can Improve the World

What are genetically engineered (GE) animals?  You may be surprised to know that genetically engineered animals are just like “normal” cows, pigs, goats and fish – only better! They all contain a specific gene that makes them better than their conventional counterparts. 

Genetic engineering is the deliberate modification of the animal’s genome using techniques of modern biotechnology. Visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration web site to learn more about GE animals.

By incorporating genes from other organisms in a process called transgenesis, GE animals are being developed to address five broad goals:

1. Advance human health:  GE animals can improve human health by producing novel replacement proteins, drugs, vaccines and tissues for the treatment and prevention of human disease.

The first and only U.S. approved product from a GE animal is called ATryn. It is a human pharmaceutical developed to prevent blood clots. This drug is produced in the milk of GE goats. 

2. Enhance food production and quality: Animals that are genetically engineered have improved food production capabilities, enabling them to help meet the global demand for more efficient, higher quality and lower-cost sources of food.

AquaBounty Technologies, a BIO member, is awaiting approval from the FDA for its AquAdvantage salmon. This fish grows at two times the rate of conventional salmon to the same mature weight while producing safe and healthful salmon for human consumption, and reducing environmental impact.

The genetically engineered AquAdvantage salmon could be the next GE animals approved in the United States. It would be the first GE animal approved for human food production.  The FDA has been studying this fish for nearly 20 years and has already confirmed that is exactly the same as a conventionally produced Atalnatic salmon. It is safe to eat and it is not expected to have any significant impact on the environment. 

Visit the Aquabounty Technologies press room for more information on the AquAdvantage salmon.

3. Mitigate environmental impact:  GE animals can contribute to improving the environment and human health by consuming fewer resources and producing less waste.

The Enviropig, whose developer, the University of Guelph (also a BIO Member), has publicly announced its application with the FDA. The Enviropig produces dramatically lower levels of phosphorus pollution than traditional pigs, and has a decreased impact on the environment. 

4. Optimize animal welfare:  Genetic engineering offers tremendous benefits to the animals by enhancing the health, well-being and welfare of the animal itself.

5. Improve industrial products:  Genetic engineering can produce high-value industrial products, such as spider silk, for both medical and defense applications.

BIO recently published a second edition of its report, Genetically Engineered Animals and Public Health – Compelling Benefits for Health Care, Nutrition, the Environment and Animal Welfare. This report details the promises of animal biotechnology and the scientific progress already achieved in recent years.  The report was authored by Scott Gottlieb, MD, of the American Enterprise Institute, and Matthew B. Wheeler, PhD, of the Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  

Although there are tremendous potential benefits to this fascinating field of animal science, a number of challenges remain. The AquAdvantage salmon, for example, has been studied for decades — making it the most studied fish in history.  Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration have pored through thousands of pages of data and scientific study, in the end concluding that the fish are exactly the same as any other Atlantic salmon. 

Most small companies that are developing such breakthrough technologies don’t have 20-30 years to wait before being able to market their product. 

In addition, there are some Members of Congress who are working to implement legislation to ban certain GE animals. Just this year, some Members of Congress have introduced bill to ban approval of the GE salmon, to require that the GE salmon be labeled “genetically engineered” or to ban its export to other countries. These political roadblocks will deter future investment and development. 

Dr. Matthew Wheeler, author of BIO’s recent report on Genetically Engineered Animals has said that unless attitudes change, there is little to no future for animal biotech research in the United States. Other countries actually want this technology – Argentina and China, just to name two of the largest. 

It’s time for us to embrace science, educate ourselves on its benefits, and encourage – not impede – forward thinking. Our future might depend on it!