Generally, in the modern, western world, conceptualizations of the natural environment are associated with what nature can offer us—an anthropocentric perspective whereby humans treat nature and all its biotic components as ‘natural resources’. When nature and the beings within it are regarded purely in utilitarian terms, humans lose sight of the fact that ecosystems and nonhuman animals have intrinsic value. Most biotechnological use of nonhuman animals is informed by an instrumental view of nature. In this article, we endeavour to broaden the field of animal abuse studies by including in it the exploration of biotechnological abuse of animals. We analyse the issue by discussing it in relation to differing philosophical starting points and, in particular, the rights and justice theory developed within green criminology.The authors argue
There seem to be few, if any, moral or ethical limitations to what humans do to nonhuman animals (e.g. Beirne, 1999, 2009; Nurse, 2015; Sollund, 2008, 2013a, 2013b). For example, nonhuman animals are killed for ‘fun’ and as ‘sport’ in hunting (e.g. Lawson, 2017; Sollund, 2017a), and they are exploited in various forms of entertainment, such as in races and fights (e.g. Lawson, 2017; Young, 2017), circuses and zoos (e.g. Berger, 2009: 36). On a large scale, humans breed and kill nonhuman animals for food production in harmful and cruel ways (e.g. Adams, 1996; Cudworth, 2017; Wyatt, 2014) and subject them to painful experiments (e.g. Menache, 2017; Regan, 2012; Sollund, 2008). In this article, we address the ways in which humans, via biotechnology, use and abuse freeborn nonhuman animals by subjecting them to processes aimed at developing medicines and other products for human benefit. Such processes reflect a utilitarian view of nonhuman animals (Singer, 1995) from which a ‘welfarist’ position is derived (e.g. Svärd, 2008)—and in contrast to a perspective that considers nonhuman animals as beings possessing their own right(s) (Francione, 2009, 2014; Regan, 1986; cf. Pellow, 2013). These perspectives or stances, which may be positioned along a continuum regarding the extent to which nonhuman animals should have rights, may be viewed in relation to (other) philosophical directions that will be treated in more detail in this article. Our goals, then, are as follows: (1) to position biotechnological animal abuse in the field of animal abuse studies; (2) to show the complexity of developing studies of biotechnological use of nonhuman animals; and (3) to explore the moral and ethical implications of biotechnological use of nonhuman animals.
We begin by placing the study within the field of green criminology, including animal abuse studies and so-called ‘wildlife trafficking’. This allows us to connect animal exploitation for traditional (e.g. Ngoc and Wyatt, 2013; Van Uhm, 2016) and western medicine (Regan, 2007, 2012; Sollund, 2008) to the more ‘modern’ animal exploitation within biotechnological research for medical purposes. We then provide an overview of the concept of biotechnology and an introduction to the field of bioprospecting, more generally. These concepts are illuminated through an examination of the exploitation of the ‘poison dart frog’, in which we draw on our own empirical research from Colombia. We then turn to the philosophical debate surrounding the use of animals in biotechnology. We argue that whereas traditional medicine is condemned for the harms it causes to animals, biotechnology escapes those deserved criticisms due to the legitimacy conferred by the label of modern western science. We conclude that most current uses of animals by biotechnology are a prolongation of the harmful logic behind the abuse of animals for development of traditional medicine.