International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW)

Genetically modified animals for food production: Exploring the ethical issues using the Ethical Matrix

At June 9-10, 2011 the the Centre for Applied Bioethics (University of Nottingham, UK) and the Centre for the Study of the Science and the Humanities (SVT) (University of Bergen, Norway) organised in association with the PEGASUS Project (EU 7th Framework Project) and the International Centre for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (University of Tübingen, Germany) the workshop "Genetically modified animals for food production: Exploring the ethical issues using the Ethical Matrix".

The aim of this workshop was to explore the social and ethical issues raised by genetically modified animals in the food chain, using an ethical engagement tool (the Ethical Matrix) and focussing on GM salmon to aid the discussion.

Background information and workshop aims

Foods derived from genetically modified (GM) animals have not yet entered the European market. However, a high profile application is being considered by the USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for AquAdvantage® Salmon and the European Union is taking a number of steps to prepare its approach. Some individuals expect the issue of GM animals for food to prove as controversial as GM crops, if not more so, as where animals are involved, concerns are also likely to be raised about animal welfare, as well as the other concerns around food safety, environmental impact and consumer choice.

With policy-makers in both Europe and the USA actively considering GM animals, it is important for European stakeholders to explore the ethical issues raised by the genetic modification of animals, including future use of potential products or technologies. Indeed, the European Commission (2011) has asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to develop an approach to assess “…food and feed safety, animal health and welfare and the environment”.

Within this context, research commissioned by the European Commission is being conducted within the ‘PEGASUS’ EU project which seeks to provide support for future policy-making regarding the potential development and commercialisation of GM animals.

Discussion at the workshop

The workshop involved:

The workshop aimed to:

Specifically, the workshop entailed a plenary session with introductory and topical presentations followed by work sessions allowing:

(i) the participants discussed and filled in the cells of ‘the Ethical Matrix’ engagement tool. In other words, put wording on what ethical principles mean for different interest groups in relation to the development and use of GM salmon (case-based discussion);

(ii) determined how the genomics/technology affect stakeholder concerns; and

(iii) reflected on the priorities and responsibilities of key stakeholders and any policy implications.