Genetic engineers don't make new genes, they rearrange existing ones. ~ Thomas E. Lovejoy
..... and we all know how such a simple genetic rearrangement can significantly alter the way nature intended her creatures to be! Ah well, before you jump to any conclusions, let me make it very clear that I am neither for nor against genetic engineering and the only thing that interests me about this issue is the excitement of exploring less explored territories and gathering more knowledge on my way. I am also a staunch follower of the 'every coin has two faces' philosophy and this, coupled with my eternal curiosity about anything to do with the mysteries of creation and evolution, is the reason why I do not believe in voting in favor of one side at the cost of the other when, most of the time, both sides are just two different aspects of the same thing! Confused already? Well, that was the idea! All right, jokes apart, the subject of genetic engineering in livestock is not obscure any more and most of you must be having a fair idea about what it is and why it's done. About the 'why it is done' part, the broad answer would be 'so that mankind gets to exploit the fruits of nature more than ever!'. In more specific terms, it is done to enhance the health, life expectancy and quality of livestock and related products for the improvement in the quality of consumption as well as to increase the economic yield. Like everything else, the issue of genetic engineering in livestock also has two sides to it. Scroll down to the following segment for a closer look at both the positive as well as negative attributes of this issue.
Genetic Engineering in Livestock - Pros and Cons
Usually, livestock are genetically manipulated for specific set of purposes - retention of desirable (by humans, of course) characteristics and elimination of the undesirable ones (especially in terms of appearance, behavior and temperament), increasing their life expectancy, genetically lowering their susceptibility to certain typical (species-specific) diseases, improving their breeding and reproductive abilities, improving their quality (especially in case of livestock reared for food purposes), etc. Now, while genetic engineering has been able to successfully address all of these noble-enough issues by offering a solution to each problem sector, there do exist certain gray patches that have emerged as a side effect of humanity's stint at playing God. The following paragraphs lay down both the pros and cons of genetic engineering in livestock as experienced and recorded till date.
- Better understanding of genetic structures of livestock animals and their diseases help scientists identify and isolate defective genes in order that successive generations are born healthy and do not risk inheriting the particular disorder. This paves the way for healthier cattle which is more resilient to diseases and, as such, passing on possible health hazards to those who consume cattle meat and poultry products.
- Genetic alterations are useful in increasing the productivity and reproductivity of livestock. The result can be seen in higher poultry and dairy yields in the current times where dairy and poultry farms resort to genetic engineering to increase their output.
- Also, the quality of livestock output can be radically altered. For instance, a genetic alteration in the DNA of pigs can yield low-fat pork and genetically altered hens can be used for high protein, low cholesterol eggs as well as a meatier anatomy.
- Medically valuable proteins can be artificially derived from genetically modified farm animals and products derived from them can be used to treat a number of human health conditions. For instance, milk of genetically modified sheep containing human clotting factor is highly recommended for people suffering from hemophilia. Also, genetically modified farm animals are often used for performing xenotransplantations when human donors are unavailable or transplantable organs are scarce.
- The biggest risk that genetic modification of livestock poses is transmission of artificial genetic anomalies to people who consume the products derived from these animals. For instance, the growth and other hormones that are injected to make cattle produce more meat and milk ultimately gets transmitted to whoever eats beef and dairy that comes from such an animal. In recent times, a lot of cases have come to the fore when people, especially infants and young children, have fallen seriously sick on consuming milk that came from cows who had received artificial hormone shots for increasing their milk producing capacities.
- Similar to the above point, a more direct health hazard from consuming genetically modified animal products is the risk of exposure to various harmful toxins that exist in the eat and hides of these animals as a result of increasing their resistance to disease-causing germs and parasites.
- The subject of xenotransplantation is still in its nascent stage and right now, the techniques are not advanced enough to coax the human body to accept a foreign organ from a different species of organism. Let alone a different species, many a time the human body rejects organ transplants sourced from human donors! Therefore, the success rate, if any, is far from promising.