Genetically Modified Animals

Genetically modified animals refer to animals whose genetic material has been altered by use of a genetic engineering or recombinant DNA technology. Genetic modification technology is used for a number of reasons. For instance, in the field of agriculture, most agro-businesses have invested heavily in GMO technology to produce high quality species within a short time. In addition, GMO has given a rise to genetically modified animal products. These include fish, chicken and pigs among other animals.

Farm Animals

The concept of genetic engineering has gained widespread popularity among poultry and pig farmers.  In developed countries, such as, the United States and United Kingdom, chicken farming has been genetically modified to ensure that enough chickens are produced within a short time, to meet the ever-increasing consumer demand. Production of chicken through caged environments ensures that chicks mature quickly than in ordinary surroundings. Engdahl explains, “in the 1940s, broilers required at least 12 weeks to acquire market weight (4.4 pounds) whereas, due to unnatural elements of industrialized production methods, they attain that weight and are killed at just 6 weeks” (287). 

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Similarly, in pig farming, the use of GMO is equally enhanced. Whereas a natural brought up pig takes months to mature and attain market size, a pig raised under controlled environments through GMO takes a paltry 3 months to attain a slaughtering age. In the United States, for instance, only four farmers are enough to produce pigs required to feed the population of an entire state.  Piglets are fed with growth hormones and nutrients that promote fast growth (Engdahl 292).

The main company that was pushed for the use of genetically modified foods in the United States was Monsanto (Engdahl 4). This company, though aware of the health problems associated with these foods, had successfully won the support of the government and was able to push for the commercial and large-scale use of their products. Genetic engineering mainly involves the alteration of the genes of a plant or an animal. The genes inserted for the purpose of altering the genetic configuration of a plant or animal come from a different species. This in nature occurs when exogenous DNA gets into the cell membrane of another plant or animal. This ends up altering the genetic configuration of the original cell. This can be achieved artificially by attaching the genes to a virus. This virus then penetrates the cell membrane and hooks the attached DNA to the cell nucleus. This transfer can be achieved through other methods such as inserting the extra gene to the nucleus through the use of a small syringe or using a gene gun plus other methods

The effects of genetically modified food substances came to the public domain after the research conducted by Dr. Pusztai. The research unearthed many effects of the genetically modified foods that had not been revealed to the public earlier. He realized that the “ rats that were eating the genetically were significantly smaller in size and body weight than ordinary potato-fed control rats in the same experiment” he also discovered “… the fact that the GMO rats showed markedly smaller liver and heart sizes and demonstrated weaker immune systems. Smaller brain sizes of GMO-fed rats compared with the normal potato fed rats” (Engdahl 23).   These were revelations that changed the perception of the whole idea of human beings consuming genetically modified foods. Earlier it had been reported that cows that were treated with Rbgh on the promise that they would mark an increase on milk production showed problems such as mastitis, an inflammation of the udder, and deformed births.

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The effects of genetically modified animals and plants were initially unknown due to the way the American food and drugs agency was handling this issue. The government had made sure that the created policies were meant to view genetically modified foods in the same way as normal crops. Monsanto had made sure that the government was in its good books and at one point the food and drugs agency created a position of deputy commissioner for policy to oversee agency policy that was filled by a Monsanto friendly lawyer (Engdahl 10). The government failed to enforce and make policies that would check the effects of genetically modified foods. The effects of genetically modified substances can in no way be expected to be similar to those of normal foods. Altering the genetic composition of any substance is likely to have both positive and negative consequences both to the consumer and the plant or animal. The effects may not be short term but may be realized with time as the effects of the compounds in the food substance are absorbed into the body of the plant or animal. Like in the case of the cows treated to produce more milk, the effect was realized after about two years when then udder and calves showed signs of abnormalities and ill health (Engdahl 10). The discoveries of Dr. Pusztai were shocking, but they revealed exactly what human beings were being subjected to. The effects were felt badly by the animals that had been modified. It also showed that if human beings were to consume the plants that had been modified for quite some time, they were likely to develop similar defects as the one experienced by the rats. If human beings were to have smaller brains and weak immune systems that would have devastating effects on human life, the animals modified were also suffering because they were easily prone to infections, unlike the normal animals. The effects of this can longer be hidden, and this calls for strict measures to protect both human life and the animals.

Researchers have delved into cloning and genetic engineering of almost all animals and plants they can access. There are different categories of animals that have been genetically modified.

Companion Animals

These are common types of fish that have been genetically engineered for use as pets though there have been campaigns for their consumption as food. An example is the genetic modification of zebra fish was attained by inserting genes of sea anemone and jelly fish. The result is known as “GloFish” which expresses proteins. They have been marketed in the United States since 2003 as ornamental pet fish (Ormandy, Dale, and Griffin 545). This, however, has sparked ethical controversies with sections of the media and ethical organizations calling for their bans. Gene knock-out technique is another popular method that scientists are employing to produce the so called “designer” companion animals. Hypoallergenic cat is produced by some companies by removing the gene that codes for the cat allergies Fel d1. Cloning is another method used to create companion animals. Cats and dogs have been successfully cloned since 2002. Ethical issues have stalled the growth of this field of companion animals (Ormandy, Dale, and Griffin 545). There is hope that people in the future are going to adopt genetically modified pets for their day to day activities and that cloning will also gain popularity, as clients clone their dead pets.

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In conclusion, genetic engineering has numerous benefits to both human beings and the animals, but certain ethical issues are usually raised. These issues are from those who are concerned with ethical values regarding procedures and the consequences on the parties involved. Animals are used during research and the modification process. This process involves surgical procedures that include vasectomy, surgical embryo transfers etcetera. These procedures affect animals that are undergoing the process and they are unethical (Ormandy, Dale, and Griffin 545). These animals are subjected to processes that forever change their lives.

Most of the embryos that undergo genetic modification do not survive which practically means a large number of animals are needed. Advances in technology are underway to ensure that a large number of embryos survive during implantation. The currently available technologies are highly ineffective which leaves only a small percentage of embryos to survive. There are many problems associated with genetic modifications, and the long term benefit of these methods is under scrutiny (Ormandy, Dale, and Griffin 545). The overall benefits of genetic modification are felt in the short term, but as research has suggested long term effects might be negative with some having permanent damage on consumers and the genetically modified animals. Caution needs to be taken before large scale cloning and genetic modification of animals can be done to avoid putting human and animal races at a threat (Sjöberg 164).

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