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Biotech solutions to factory farming not what activists had in mind

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"I prayed for something red and shiny to get around town in," reads the caption on a squiggly New Yorker-like cartoon, "and got this raincoat."

That's how food activists must feel at the end of a mixed year.

They asked for an end to the intensive farming conditions that cause mad cow disease and researchers gave them--a prion free cow.
(The bad news? It's safe to make cows cannibals again. The good news? Ranchers can save money by "recycling" their dead.)

They asked for an end to egg laying hens packed in overstuffed cages over ammonia reeking pits and researchers at the Dolly the sheep institute gave them--"designer hens" with synthetic substances in their eggs like interferon b-1a and miR24.

("Hundreds of birds" will be bred from a single co*k once the correct gene is in place says lead scientist Dr. Helen Sang who has "modified" over 500 birds so far).

They asked for pigs that don't, as the Seattle Post Intelligencer Editorial Board put it, "Spend their entire lives ignorant of earth or straw or sunshine, crowded together beneath a metal roof standing on metal slats suspended over a septic tank" their tails docked with "no anesthetic," and researchers gave them a cloned, transgenic omega-3 pig for a trumped up omega-3 shortage.

(People can "continue to eat their junk food," enthused one pro transgenic pig scientist. "You won't have to change your diet, but you will be getting what you need.")

They asked for an end to slaughterhouses where animals are butchered while still alive and dragged off "dead piles" to the kill floor and industry gave them--mobile abattoirs. Slaughterhouses that make "house calls," eliminating shipping costs and disease transfer. (Good news for Ted Turner: they're licensed for buffalo.)

Not only do the technology "solutions" perpetuate the problems--a preslaughter treatment that neutralizes salmonella in the "fecal soup" chickens are dipped in; Good for the birds' (sic) health says Feedstuffs--public monies are funding the private ventures of food commercializers, patentors and profiteers, say activists.

(Omega-3 pig development was funded by National Institutes of Health and US National Cancer Institute monies.)

Still, awareness is growing.

The film version of Eric Schlosser's popular Fast Food Nation and deadly e Coli outbreaks in 2006 brought new awareness to, well, what else might be in the meat.

Communities are uniting against the pollution from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) also known as factory farms.

And even Illinois Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama has said, "poor treatment of poultry by the food processing industry... must not be tolerated."

Scientists too are speaking out like Autumn Fiester, Ph.D., Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics who says the omega-3 pig is "an obvious attempt to drum up a need that justifies the science."

"We are altering the genome of an animal to enable consumers to continue with their self-destructive eating habits," Fiester writes in the December 2006 issue of Nature Biotechnology. "What does this say about us if that is reason enough to manipulate sentient life?"

A good question with cloned milk shakes and hamburgers just around the corner.
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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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