H.G. Wells’ science-fiction classic The Island of Dr. Moreau appears to be edging closer and closer to reality each day as Franken-scientists find new and bizarre ways to manipulate animals. Just recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unveiled “guidelines” to help companies get fast-growing salmon, goat milk that contains and anti-clotting drug, pork from so-called “enviro-pigs”, and other genetically engineered products, into the marketplace. Consumers won’t necessarily know if they’re buying meat and milk from “transgenic animals” because the FDA feels that these foods are no different than those from conventionally-bred animals, and therefore don’t need to be labeled.
This is just the FDA’s latest volley on behalf of the biotech industry. Last year, the agency announced that meat and milk from cloned cows, pigs and goats and their offspring were “as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals.” (This means they aren’t safe or healthy at all.) Jaydee Hanson of the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., feels that this move was made to facillitate genetic engineering.
To engineer an animal, scientists reportedly splice DNA from another animal into a nucleus, and then implant the modified embryo into a host mother. The procedure is difficult, costly, and cruel; it can cause the premature death of animals.
Mortality rates for transgenic animals are quite high, and animals who do survive are frequently born with physical abnormalities. Tinkering with animals’ genes can cause physiological and immune system problems that scientists cannot control. Cloned animals pose a risk to their surrogate mothers because they tend to be too large for their mothers to deliver. Many clones have birth defects, and cloned calves have died of respiratory, digestive, circulatory, nervous, muscular and skeletal abnormalities. If, however, cloned animals survive for more than a few months, the FDA says they appear normal in most ways. Comforting, huh?
The technology behind cloning and genetic engineering is quite confusing to a “layperson” like me, but one thing seems fairly simple: Without labeling, it will be tough for consumers who are opposed to genetic manipulation—for ethical or health reasons—to know if meat and dairy products were developed using these “new” technological methods or through conventional (and also cruel) means.
This is just one more reason to consider a vegetarian diet. The FDA is obviously moving in the wrong direction. More and more consumers are choosing mock meats and other vegetarian foods. A growing number of children are opting not to eat meat and an April 2008 survey showed that 7.3 million American adults are vegetarians. Approximately 1 million of them are vegans, like me; meaning they consume no animal products. The survey also indicated that a whopping 11.9 million people are “definitely interested” in following a vegetarian diet in the future.
This represents progress and positive change—genetically engineering animals and marketing unhealthy Franken-foods does not.