Genetically Engineered Animals and Your Family’s Diet

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As we round the corner on yet another contamination scare – this time, peanut butter – the world has gained heightened awareness of the lax standards imposed by governmental agencies charged with the task of keeping the public safe.  Safe from improper handling, safe from unintended chemical and biological contamination, and safe from overt efforts to taint the food chain.  So where do we draw the line?

The scientific world has been testing the limits of genetic engineering for decades.  They’ve been charged with the task of finding ways to improve the genetic resistance of crops to insects, bacteria and fungi.  As knowledge and understanding of imposed genetic mutations grew, it was only a matter of time before they would turn their attention to feed animals, and that time has crept upon us.

Traditional genetic engineering took generations to perfect.  Breeding stock was selected for specific characteristics and the offspring were monitored to determine the relative success of the experiment.  The difficulty with traditional breeding trials, however, is firmly grounded in the root of genetics.  Selective breeding intensifies breed traits: size, function, appearance and temperament, but while one desired element may improve, an undesirable trait may be magnified, as well.

Selective breeding has defined the standard of many dog and cat breeds, developed Thoroughbred and Morgan horse breeds, and has birthed renowned meat cattle such as Polled Hereford and Red Angus.  These breeds are resistant to environmental conditions and diseases, but their impaired survival attributes make them less hardy for traditional free-range ranching.

As farmers and ranchers continued to expand their breeding trials for more durable, disease-resistant and temperamentally stable stock, they learned first-hand about genetic incompatibility.  They learned that physically similar animals, such as horses and donkeys, differ in their genus and produce infertile offspring.  This makes the coveted prize mule a genetic oddity that combines the size of the horse with the strength and determination of the petite donkey.

“Mule” is the common term for any infertile species that springs from cross-genus breeding.  Offspring, whether male or female, achieve equitable physical size suitable for increased meat production in a short period of time.  Duck breeders have applied this knowledge to increase premium duck meat production by crossing large Muscovys with high egg production breeds that lay 250 or more eggs annually.

Today’s genetic engineers cut the time it takes to develop new breeds by selecting microscopic DNA that can be introduced to embryos that will develop in the host animal.  Semen and ovum may be extracted, irradiated and “tweaked” in the laboratory setting to develop super-breeds of livestock.  The resulting offspring may bear little or no resemblance to the host, such as the mini-Hereford, which maintains optimal meat production in smaller space and with reduced feed requirements.

As we have learned from the genetic engineering of our food crops, the long-term effect and control of genetic engineering is still not known.  GE crops cross-pollinate with neighboring crops, causing disputes of ownership and crop impairment between farmers.  These crops are often used to feed meat and milk cattle, sheep, chickens and virtually every other farm-raised animal in the food chain.  The effects of GE crops on the nutritional value of the food products produced by these animals have not been proven, but it is suspected that it might affect hormone production (especially in children and pregnant women) and cholesterol levels and could affect the body’s disease resistance.

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  5. Role of Bees in Human Survival
  6. How to Make Your Family Go Greener

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