As young job seekers quickly learn, the right attitude can be the difference between success and failure. When it comes to the job of using genomics to enhance resilience in pigs for the benefit of the Canadian pork industry, gauging the attitudes of the public towards this ground breaking technology is a key piece of the puzzle.
Collaborating on that effort is Dr. Lynn Frewer, Professor – Food and Society at the Centre for Rural Economy, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. Together with Dr. Ellen Goddard, Professor, Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta, Dr. Frewer is working on GE3LS research for the Genome Canada-funded Application of Genomics to Improve Disease Resilience and Sustainability in Pork Production project.
GE3LS stands for Genomics and its Ethical, Environmental, Economic, Legal and Social Aspects. GE3LS research investigates questions at the intersection of genomics and society. It provides stakeholders the insights needed to anticipate impacts of scientific advances in genomics, avoid pitfalls, cultivate success, and ultimately, contribute to Canada’s leadership in the 21st century global bioeconomy.
“I am a social scientist conducting research in the area of food systems, and am particularly interested in transdisciplinary activities addressing issues and concerns in food security,” said Dr. Frewer. “I was invited by Dr. Goddard to collaborate on the GE3LS research as we have worked together on previous projects in this area.”
Regarding the pig resilience study, Dr. Frewer’s main goal is to understand public attitudes to genome editing as applied in animal production, and compare this to other forms of genomic application in livestock. As it turns out, there is both good news and bad news when it comes to public opinion in this area.
“People are mostly negative about genetic modification applied to animals in production systems, and indeed animals more generally,” said Dr. Frewer. “They are less concerned about genome editing applied to reach the same goals.”
That finding raises a critical question: Why the difference in attitudes towards genetic modification and gene editing?
“I was really surprised by the difference in acceptability of these two technologies. I believe it is connected to the perceived degree of change to the natural order, as genetic modifications may result in permanent genetic changes, which are perceived as highly unnatural.”
On the other hand, gene editing is more acceptable as it does not involve “cross-species” transfers, but rather changes to the animal’s own genome.
“Though genome editing does not raise the same level of concern as other forms of genomic applications, it is important to consider why the editing is being applied (and especially if animal welfare is promoted or compromised) as this will shape public opinion regarding acceptability.”
Gauging those opinions is both time and money well spent for researchers.
“Developing a technological application without understanding the societal implications that may arise could lead to technological rejection. For example, if the public rejects an application on ethical grounds, or implementation is not compatible with end-user needs, requirements or abilities, it is unlikely that the application will be accepted. Properly executed and applied, GE3LS research within the pig resilience project will ensure improved animal welfare that aligns with consumer priorities and, ultimately, increases demand for pork products.”