6 April ecoglobe [yinyang] news 2000

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Great Moments in Genetic Engineering

WELLINGTON, 6 April 2000 - The Environmental Risk Management Authority ERMA [www.ermanz.govt.nz/NewsIssues] started its hearings into an application by AgResearch for field trials with sheep that have 'double-muscle' gene modification. For the occasion Tom Scott produced this cartoon:

During the first day of the hearings the double-muscled Belgian Blue cattle was frequently mentioned. We searched the internet for that string and found 178 documents (0.0563 seconds search time www.alltheweb.com). Many sites are presented by proud Belgian Blue cattle breeders. The 68th site http://www.foodforum.org/national/swe_engbelblue.html reads as follows:


We were at a Euro-Toques annual congress in Belgium together with 150 other chefs from several European countries. During this event we had the opportunity of visiting a selected farm where Belgian Blue cattle are raised. The individual animals were referred to as "production units" and were praised for their qualities.

Many of the bulls and cows gain such muscle mass that their limbs can hardly support their weight. Weaknesses in the ligaments and bone structure cause the animals unnecessary pain. Belgian Blue cows are unable to give birth to their offspring without human help. A cow can die if the calf is not removed by Caesarean section.

This breed of cattle was brought about by unethical manipulation. This exploitation of animals is not morally defensible. There is no justification for such manipulation, neither on the grounds of taste or quality.

The chefs of Euro-Toques Sweden appeal to Swedish farmers to exercise foresight and awareness with regard to this issue.
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The 100th site is http://www.viva.org.uk/Viva!Guides/Genetic.htm. We copied part of the article on Genetic Engineering, by Kate Fowler:

Selective Breeding

Depending on who they are talking to, biotechnology companies will either say that genetic engineering is state-of-the-art, space-age technology (particularly if they are speaking to an audience of potential investors) or they will attempt to reassure a sceptical audience by saying that genetic engineering is merely an extension of selective breeding which is itself merely an extension of natural selection. But genetic engineering is not natural, in fact it defies the laws of nature. Genetic material from one species of plant, bacteria, virus or animal can be inserted into another species with which they never would or could naturally breed. Even millions of years of natural evolution would not produce the genetically engineered examples that are now being created.

Genetic engineering is about as far away from natural selection as it is possible to be. The laws of nature regulate which species and which individuals within a species will survive and which will not. In nature changes are slow to occur and are of limited scope. Genetic engineers, on the other hand, are limited only by their imaginations and the unnatural frequently occurs.

And it's not as if selective breeding has been a utopian science either - just take a look at today's farm animals and you will see plenty of horror stories brought about by selective breeding.

Broiler chickens now reach slaughter weight in just 42 days, twice as quickly as they did 30 years ago.5 As a result their hearts and lungs cannot cope and even during their brief lifetime fatal heart attacks are not uncommon. Others will suffer lameness and broken bones as their legs collapse beneath their ballooning weight. Birds that are spared slaughter are rarely able to live much longer. Turkeys have experienced similar problems. Their new 'improved' shape may have provided more breast meat but it has made reproduction all but impossible and they must now rely on artificial insemination. Pigs have been bred to gain more weight more quickly and now suffer hip and joint problems as well as lung and heart conditions. Belgian Blue cattle must give birth by caesarean section as they have been given a double-muscling gene which increases the size of the calf but reduces the size of the pelvic canal.6 Dairy cows produce ten times more milk than their calves could ever drink and now suffer nutrient deficiencies, lameness and mastitis as a result.7

Scientists claim that genetic engineering is far superior to selective breeding because it allows the desired characteristic to be separated from the undesirable ones and it allows the transfer of characteristics between species. This makes the science more accurate, we are told and one day customers will be able to order their animals to exact specifications. Currently, however, genetic engineering is at best a hit-and-miss affair.

Genetically Engineered Animals

As if the selective breeding scenario wasn't bad enough, genetic engineers are manipulating animals further than ever before in an attempt to recoup the billions of dollars that has been invested in research. Genetic engineering is not a simple process and with every step more pain is inflicted on the animals involved. Firstly the female 'donor' has a course of injections to maximise ovulation and is then artificially inseminated. The embryo is surgically removed, injected with the new gene and then surgically implanted into another female, known as the 'recipient'. This female may only survive a matter of days as she will be killed when the embryo is removed and checked. If all is going well, the embryo will then be implanted into a surrogate mother who will carry the foetus to full term and give birth to a transgenic infant, often by caesarean section. Because of the low success rate, it is estimated that 40 sheep are needed to produce one transgenic sheep, and even then there is no guarantee that the off-spring will possess the desired characteristics.

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This means that the people using Tom Scott's chromosomes could accidentally create the opposite of a happy double-muscled chicken - just click on the cartoon and see for yourself.
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6 April ecoglobe [yinyang] news 2000

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