Searching for the 'Win-Win'? Animals, Genomics and Welfare



Published Dec 4, 2007
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.

How to Cite

Twine, R. 2007. Searching for the ’Win-Win’? Animals, Genomics and Welfare . The International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food. 15, 3 (Dec. 2007), 8-25. DOI:
Abstract 48 | PDF Downloads 22


Armstrong, S.J. & Botzler, R.G. (2003) The Animal Ethics Reader London: Routledge.
Beck, U. (1992) Risk Society – Toward a New Modernity London: Sage.
Bishop, S. & Woolliams, J. (2004) “Genetic approaches and technologies for improving the sustainability of livestock production” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture Vol.84, pp.911-919.
Birke, L. (1994) Feminism, Animals and Science – The Naming of the Shrew Buckingham: Open University Press.
Broudy, O. (2006) ‘The Practical Ethicist – An Interview with Peter Singer’ available at
Camm, T & Bowles, D. (2000) ‘Animal Welfare and the Treaty of Rome – A Legal Analysis of the Protocol of Animal Welfare and Welfare Standards in the European Union’ Journal of Environmental Law Vol.12, No.1, pp.197-205.
DEFRA (2007) ‘Identifying and characterising robust dairy cows (LK0657)’ Project web-site:
Dekkers, J.C.M. (2004) ‘Commercial Application of Marker- and Gene-assisted Selection in Livestock: Strategies and Lessons’ Journal of Animal Science Vol.82 (E.Suppl.), E313-E328.
DeNise, S. (2004) ‘Genomics Overview’ in Creating Value From Genomics in the Pork Industry – A Roundtable Discussion’ Monsanto Choice Genetics.
Duncan, I. (2001) ‘Animal Welfare Issues in the Poultry Industry: Is There a Lesson to be Learned?’ Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science Vol.4, No.3, pp.207-221.
FABRE-TP (2005) Sustainable Farm Animal Breeding and Reproduction – A Vision for 2025 Brussels: FABRE Technology Platform.
FAWC (2004) ‘Report on the welfare implications of animal breeding and breeding technologies in commercial agriculture London: Farm Animal Welfare Council.
FAWC (1998) ‘Report on the implications of cloning on the welfare of livestock’ London: Farm Animal Welfare Council.
FAWC (1997) ‘Report on the welfare of dairy cattle’ London: Farm Animal Welfare Council.
Francione, G. (1996) Rain Without Thunder – The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple University Press.
Fraser, D. (2003) “Assessing Animal Welfare at the Farm and Group Level: The Interplay of Science and Values” Animal Welfare Vol.12, pp.433-443.
Fraser, D., Weary, D.M., Pajor, E.A. & Milligan, B.N. (1997) ‘A Scientific Conception of Animal Welfare that Reflects Ethical Concerns’ Animal Welfare Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 187-205.
Gieryn, T. (1983) ‘Boundary Work and the Demarcartion of Science from Non-Science: Strains and Interests in Professional Ideologies of Science’ American Sociological Review Vol.48, pp781-795.
Hocquette, J.-F., Lehnert, S., Barendse, W., Cassar-Malek, I. & Picard, B (2007) ‘Recent Advances in Cattle Functional Genomics and their Application to Beef Quality’ Animal Vol.1, pp.159-173.
Holland, A. & Johnson, A. eds. (1998) Animal Biotechnology and Ethics London: Chapman & Hall.
Holloway, L. (2007) “Subjecting cows to robots: farming technologies and the making of animal subjects” forthcoming in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.
Holloway, L. (2005) “Aesthetics, genetics, and evaluating animal bodies: locating and displacing cattle on show and in figures” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space Vol.23, pp.883-902.
Kanis, E., De Greef, K.H., Hiemstra, A. & van Arendonk, J.A.M. (2005) “Breeding for societally important traits in pigs” Journal of Animal Science Vol. 83, pp.948-957.
Lang, T. & Heasman, M. (2004) Food Wars – The Global Battle for Mouths, Minds and Markets London: Earthscan.
Michael, M. (2001) “Technoscientific bespoking: animals, publics and the new genetics” New Genetics and Society Vol.20, No.3, pp.205-224.
Olesen, I., Groen, A.F. & Gjerde, B. (2000) “Definition of animal breeding goals for sustainable production systems” Journal of Animal Science Vol.78, pp.570-582.
Parens, E. ed. (1998) Enhancing Human Traits – Ethical and Social Implications Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.
Plastow, G. (2006) ‘The Use of Genomics in Animal Breeding’ paper presented at the Animal Genomes in Science, Social Science and Culture Workshop, organised by the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, Edinburgh, Scotland, 5-7th April.
Rauw, W.M., Kanis, E., Noordhuizen-Stassen, E.N. & Grommers, F.J. (1998) “Undesirable side effects of selection for high production efficiency in farm animals: a review” Livestock Production Science Vol. 56, pp.15-33.
Rollin, B.E. (2003) ‘On Telos and Genetic Engineering’ in Armstrong, S.J. & Botzler, R.G. The Animal Ethics Reader London: Routledge.
Rothschild, M. (2004) ‘Value of the Swine Sequencing Project: New Discoveries and Uses’ in Creating Value From Genomics in the Pork Industry – A Roundtable Discussion’ Monsanto Choice Genetics.
Thacker, E. (2005) The Global Genome – Biotechnology, Politics and Culture London: The MIT Press.
Twine, R. (2007a) ‘Toward a Sociological Understanding of the Biotechnological Refashioning of Animal Bodies’ Genomics, Society and Policy Vol.3, No.2, pp.99-117
Twine, R. (2007b) 'Thinking Across Species - A Critical Bioethics Approach to Enhancement' forthcoming in Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics Van Reenen, C.G., Meuwissen, T. H., Hopster, H., Oldenbroek, K., Kruip,
T.H. & Blokhuis, H.J. (2001) ‘Transgenesis May Affect Farm Animal Welfare: A Case For Systematic Risk Assessment’ Journal of Animal Science Vol. 79, No. 7, pp. 1763-1779.
Villanueva, B & Roughsedge, T. (2006) ‘Application of Molecular Genetic Information in Selection and Conservation Programmes of Farmed Animals’ paper presented at the Animal Genomes in Science, Social Science and Culture Workshop, organised by the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, Edinburgh, Scotland, 5-7th April.