September 23, 2018

Survey Reports American Attitudes on the Use of Genetic Engineering of Animals

Survey Reports American Attitudes on the Use of Genetic Engineering of Animals

Sept 17, 2018

By: Michael Azain

The Pew Research Center published a report in August based on a survey of just over 2,500 adults in the US and their feelings on the use of genetic engineering (GE) of animals. (Most Americans Accept Genetic Engineering of Animals That Benefits Human Health, but Many Oppose Other Uses, http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2018/08/15164458/PS_2018.08.16_biotech-animals_FINAL.pdf  ).  The survey involved presenting 5 different scenarios of GE that are currently available, in use, or possible in the future.   Participants were asked whether use of GE was “appropriate use of technology” or “taking technology too far” for each scenario.  Of the 5, the majority of participants were only in favor of the 2 that had the potential to prevent or lessen the impact on human health.  Most (70%) were in favor of using GE to limit reproduction in mosquitoes as a means to prevent the spread of disease.  A smaller majority (57%) were in favor of using animals to grow organs or tissues for humans needing a transplant. The majority of the survey participants were opposed to use of GE to create a more nutritious meat (55%), restore an extinct species (67%), or produce aquarium fish that glowed (77%). The numbers of males and females among the participants were similar.  In general, men were more likely to indicate that each use of GE was more appropriate than were women.  Similarly, those with higher levels of science knowledge or those with lower religious commitments, were more likely to indicate the technology was acceptable.

The survey went on to ask respondents to explain the basis for their opposition to the technology in their own words.  For the use of GE for human organ transplant, opposition was related to animal welfare concerns (21%), disruption of natural processes (18%), or the perception of human health concerns such as mixing of animal and human genes (16%).   Opposition to use of GE to produce a more nutritious meat were: the possibility of unintended consequences (20%) and disruption of natural processes (19%).  

It is probably worth noting that 49% of the participants in the survey indicated that they were opposed to the use of animals in research. Most of the group who opposed used of animals in research was in favor of using GE to alter mosquito reproduction, but were more strongly opposed to all the other uses than respondents who favored animal use.