Sunday, April 08, 2018 by Tracey Watson
Biotech companies that can genetically engineer farm animals to have “designer” characteristics – like cows without horns (yes, cows really are supposed to have horns) – can make a whole lot of money selling these animals to farmers. Unfortunately for them, farm animals are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which subjects these types of modifications to the same scrutiny and safety trials that a new drug would be forced to undergo.
This protective mechanism could soon be a thing of the past, however, as the biotech industry pushes for the regulation of genetically engineered animals to be switched to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has already shown itself to be very favorable to the biotech industry by allowing genetically edited plants to be planted and sold freely, without any regulatory constraints.
Biotech companies like Recombinetics argue that the genetic changes they engineer – like those hornless cows – simply duplicate what would take place in nature, anyway, through crossbreeding. They also emphasize that these types of changes can eliminate a great deal of animal suffering.
There is some truth in what they are saying, as noted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA):
Many people are surprised to learn that nearly all cows used for milk are born with tissue that will develop into horns. That’s because most farmers remove the sensitive horn tissue or the horns themselves from the cows’ skulls using searing-hot irons, caustic chemicals, blades, or handsaws.
Animals often struggle violently and are therefore held still manually or in a “head bail” (a metal apparatus for restraining a cow by the neck) during the painful dehorning process, which is frequently performed without painkillers and results in severe pain that lasts for hours and can become chronic.
Aren’t they missing the point though? Instead of genetically altering these animals to be hornless, why not just stop farmers from dehorning them in this inhumane and unnecessary way?
Nonetheless, lots of people can make lots of money through genetic engineering, and the biotech industry would much rather collude with what some have called the U.S. Department of Monsanto (a.k.a. the USDA) to achieve their agenda. (Related: USDA looks out only for self interests.)
The Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) and others have reported extensively on the unholy alliance between Big Biotech and the USDA. They noted:
[T]he USDA is also directly in the business of developing, patenting, and promoting biotechnology inventions. The difference is that the USDA slips the patents, developed from government research and paid for by US taxpayers, into the hands of private companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta.
Technology Review recently reported that leaders of the biotech industry are hoping that President Trump will enact legislation that will change the regulation of their industry from the FDA to the USDA permanently:
There seems to be little chance the US Congress will revise the patchwork of regulations covering biotechnology through legislation. That’s why Recombinetics, with the help of industry lobbyists, is now hoping the Trump administration will take oversight of the animals away from the FDA.
The biotech industry believes that President Trump will be sympathetic to their cause because he has shown himself to be “business friendly,” eliminating net neutrality, exiting the Paris climate accord and repealing the Clean Power Plan.
Members of President Trump’s administration have also dropped hints that they might be on board with biotech’s plans. In a January speech in Tennessee, the president himself spoke about “streamlining regulations that have blocked cutting-edge biotechnology, setting free our farmers to innovate, thrive, and grow.”
It remains to be seen what action President Trump will take in this regard.
Irrespective, as Technology Review noted, his decision will have international implications because U.S. meat and poultry are traded across the globe. And while few of us would object to hornless cows, many are concerned about where all this will end and what ethical boundaries will be breached in Big Biotech’s pursuit of the almighty dollar.
Sources for this article include: