This is a very brief overview of the ethical and legal circumstances surrounding the genetic modification of animals.
Scientists are now capable of creating new species of animals by taking genetic material from one, or more, plants or animals, and genetically engineering them into the genes of another animal. This allows scientists to create animals that are on one hand completely foreign to the earth and on the other, specifically tailored to possess only the traits that humans desire in animals.
This means that science can engineer farm animals to grow faster, have healthier meat and flesh, and be less able to feel the pain and suffering often associated with the conditions present in modern factory farms. Genetically engineered animals are also created to help medical researchers in their quest to find cures for genetic disease, like breast cancer. Finally, endangered animal species can be cloned, thus helping wildlife management in its goals of preserving wild populations of the earth’s biological diversity, and by ensuring that endangered animals' genetic information will not be lost when the last of the species dies.
This use of modern technology is not without its drawbacks or its critics. By genetically engineering farm and research animals, critics argue, we may be undoing what nature has worked to create over millions of years. Natural animals are specifically adapted to a given environment and when science manipulates the genes of a few species in the ecosystem, the entire balance of the ecosystem might fall completely apart causing an unknown number of natural animal species to grow ever extinct. Others argue that animals should possess, at a bare minimum, the right to be free of genetic manipulation or a reduction in their natural abilities.
Despite this debate, the law in both the United States and in Europe, tends to support genetic engineering research and development by allowing genetically engineered animals to be patented. Patents give scientists a monopoly over their genetically engineered animal species, something before unheard of in modern economic systems. Typically, animals could be owned, but never entire species.
Regardless, we must not wait and see what the effects genetic engineering animals will have on the earth. We must form educated opinions, lobby for government regulation, and hope that whatever direction that bioengineering takes us, is a positive step towards decreased animal suffering, increased environmental sustainability, and an overall compassionate regard for the earth and its precious life.