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Yesterday morning I attended a talk on the genetic engineering of farmed animals at #AAAS2019. Some thoughts….
First of all, it’s already happening in research labs. It’s probably going to happen commercially. And, as with #GMO plants, the question of whether those animals are “natural” is a distraction.
But in thinking of how this technology will be used, it’s worth considering what conventional breeding has done to the animals we bring into being to serve us.
In the last half-century or so, dairy cows, chickens, and turkeys — maybe pigs and goats too; I don’t know that literature — have been transformed in ways that make them more useful to us, but are quite awful for them.
Broiler chickens — the ones who become meat — grow so rapidly and so weirdly that many struggle to walk or breathe. (See researchgate.net/publication/23… for a review.) Ditto egg-laying chickens. They pump out eggs at a volume that leaves their own bodies nutrient-deprived.
Commercial turkeys can’t even mate naturally. Each year two in the U.S. receive a Presidential “pardon” on Thanksgiving; they’re usually dead within months, even with top-notch care. Partly that’s a function of how they were raised, but it’s also their physiology. They’re broken.
Dairy cows don’t get as much attention, but breeding them to produce 10+ gallons of milk *every day* leads to many metabolic problems. Some need more nutrients than they can eat. (For more, see @WicksDeidre’s “Demystifying Dairy” in @animalstudies1 ro.uow.edu.au/asj/vol7/iss2/…)
These are the living, often suffering results of a system that emphasizes production and efficiency, and treats animals as a means to an end.
And it’s not that welfare doesn’t matter — activists aside, there are many farmers and vets and scientists who are working very hard to improve these animals’ lives. But welfare has been an add-on, not a central feature.
Why, I wonder, should the genetic engineering of farmed animals turn out differently?
Certainly there are well being-promoting applications, such as dairy cows who’d be born without horns instead of having them cut off. But what else will be done? What to expect from a system that's now putting pigs in high-rise CAFOs? agweb.com/article/chinas…
In light of what conventional breeding has done to animals, it’s hard not to feel that the powers of genetic engineering will be used mostly to enhance productivity and efficiency in potentially harmful, troubling ways.
That context ought to inform discussions of genetically engineered animals, I think. Unfortunately it wasn’t part of yesterday’s panel, which framed criticism in terms of public unease about engineered animals being natural or safe to eat.
Which, again, is a sideshow. It’s about traits, not process.
And I hope people will ask, in evaluating #GMO animals: What’s best for the most vulnerable among us? Which is to say, those animals we engineer to work and die for us. /thread
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