Searching for the 'Win-Win'? Animals, Genomics and Welfare
International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food
Volume 15, issue 3 (2007), pages 8-25
Author: Richard Twine
Animal Genomics sits within the nexus of the central contradiction that characterises human/animal relations within contemporary Western societies. On the one hand we can observe a historical move toward less instrumental human/animals relations and the emergence of ethics of care which have forced significant reflexivity upon modern intensive agriculture. Yet significantly animals remain real conduits for bio-capitalization and targets of human consumption. Biotechnological elaborations of animal life be they through presently commercialised genomics or bio-pharmaceuticals or, perhaps in the longer term, cloning or GM, extend the modernist mastery of nature, now more properly understood as a refashioning or ‘bespoking’ (Michael, 2001) of nature.
The partial erosion of productivism in agriculture since the 1970s illustrates that even before the arrival of animal biotechnologies this contradiction was already in flux. Animal Genomics is one space where this is played out as it must negotiate the needs of agri-business and the societal and scientific interests of animal welfare. The term ‘win-win’ is employed by animal geneticists when they can achieve a given type of selection that is perceived to have a ‘good’ outcome both in terms of productivity and welfare, capturing well the ambivalence of production and welfare.
This paper investigates the potential impact of genetics and genomics on animal welfare science, arguing that the ambivalence of welfare and production becomes especially salient around the idea of animal ‘health’ which can be taken to signify both welfare and production. A further issue is whether animal welfare science is being subject to geneticisation. Drawing upon interviews with animal scientists this paper explores the tensions of this in practice and the economic shaping of animal genomics and welfare. Although social and ethical considerations are increasingly on the agenda it is suggested that they can only gain a limited foothold due to both the commercial outlook of agricultural science and the economic constraints of contemporary global agriculture.