Efforts underway to create farm animals who can withstand rising global temperatures, that some believe will be needed to feed the world’s growing population, are drawing both criticism and support from both sides of the climate change debate.
To address the ways extreme weather conditions from droughts to heat waves will impact farm animals scientists from the University of Delaware are working to create new breeds of chickens that can withstand heat and survive.
“The game is changing since the climate is changing,” Carl Schmidt, one of the researchers, told the LA Times. “We have to start now to anticipate what changes we have to make in order to feed 9 billion people.”
Their work currently involves mapping the genetic code of African naked-neck chickens to see if their ability to withstand heat is something that can be bred into domestic chickens who are bred for their meat. Similar efforts are underway at the University of California, Davis, Oklahoma State University and Michigan State University, where researchers are looking at ways to make chickens, cattle and turkeys, who are particularly susceptible to hotter temperatures, more adaptable.
At least some are criticizing the effort because it’s granting the factory farms that are already contributing largely to the problem the go ahead to continue business as usual, instead of focusing on ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions and looking at how we can change our habits to reduce our impact on the earth, in addition to ways we can support food security through plant-based diets.
Alan Miller, who recently retired as a principal climate-change specialist at the World Bank, told the LA Times this approach “is like trying to promote driver safety while helping the car industry make faster cars.”
His sentiments have been echoed by numerous conservation organizations, animal advocates and people like Bill Gates who continue to push the message that there’s no way to sustainably produce enough meat to feed a population that’s projected to reach 9 billion people by 2050. Gates has previously put his money where his mouth is by contributing to companies like Hampton Creek Foods, which aims to cut animals out of the equation entirely with products including Beyond Eggs and Just Mayo that mimic the real thing.
It’s certainly becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the consequences of meat consumption, which include a loss of biodiversity, deforestation, air and water pollution, diseases, violence and, of course, climate change itself. Continuing to try to manufacture animals who can be mass produced to meet the demand for meat also overlooks the suffering of billions of cows, chickens, sheep, pigs and other sentient animals who are confined, drugged, mutilated and abused before they are slaughtered to satisfy our appetites.
Are efforts to make farm animals more and more efficient, at their physical and psychological expense, really needed? Or does the focus need to move to changing the way we live now in order to ensure a liveable planet for future generations?
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