2007-01-12

Domestication

This article about genetically engineering complacent zombie animals indifferent to their treatment or conditions reminds me of the Ameglian Major Cow from the 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' (part 5) by Douglas Adams. The cow politely offers parts of his body for fine dining.

..."May I urge you to try my liver, it must be very rich and tender by now, I have been force feeding it for months?"

Arthur, disgusted asks, "Is there any reason why I shouldn’t have a green salad?"

The cow replies, "I know many vegetables who are very clear o­n that point sir, which was why it was decided to cut through that whole problem by breeding an animal that actually wanted to be eaten."


While the satire of Adams is proving remarkably prescient, targeted OGM domestication of plants and animals is no different from the millenia of breeding or 'artificial selection' which has produced such agriculturally useful organisms as we have now. Comparing a chihuahua with a wild wolf, one has a sense of revulsion in realising that the chihuahua was the product of human will upon the wolf for in some sense a crime has been committed against nature. However, this act is ultimately no different from the domestication of any other organism. GM is nothing more than the targeted acceleration of the inevitable process of artificial selection and should be embraced despite the 'yuck' factor.

In many ways, humans with less 'yuck' sensibility have a significant survival advantage over those with it in a biotechnology driven world making it somewhat inevitable. I encourage the rest of my species to get over their fears now. Realise the benefits of OGM, and focus on reaping the multifarious benefits it has to offer.

1 comment:

Mark said...

In essence, you are correct. Domesticated life forms are in general so bred as to be easier to eat. Even horses bred for horsemeat are fatter and stupider than riding horses (although Americans with their strange cultural taboo against eating horses do not realise this).

I recall a PBS documentary on dogs (I forget the name, but Jon Lithgow narrated) where it was argued that they have been in fact been overbred. Often this is done because dogs are bred for appearance and size, as opposed to personality or more fundamental characteristics. The result is that you have wolves (all dogs have the same number and size teeth, for instance) in horribly misshapen bodies. This trend apparently grew worse with dog breeding, which began of course a century or so ago when people became obsessed with lineage and eugenics (which is of course in some ways opposed to genuine genetic research).

This article is largely crap, however, and yet another example of journalistic scaremongering. As you say, humans have been breeding complacent animals for millenia (I can say from experience that sheep are easy to slaughter, while goats are difficult to even touch). Genetic research just cuts through the messiness of playing with genes and having unwanted offspring as byproducts in a breeding process.

I think that the greater issue is more that the plants and animals we consume need to be raised in a more wholesome manner, rather than in industrial conditions. GM or no GM, food processed on a titanic scale is ultimately unheathly for you. Likewise, GM or no GM, a cow or sheep raised in an attentive manner, receiving the necessary food and living space, will be a much more healthy food source for its human hosts. If such food preparation is an unrealistic option, then we need to consider why. If the majority of humanity can only exist as an unhealthy population living on processed foods, then there are greater problems facing us than merely what livestock have what genes.