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Guaranteed USDA stupid

January 16, 2007|by TIM ROWLAND

Commentary

To some degree or another, I believe all of us are concerned with the conditions in which farm animals are raised.

Cramped, restrictive and pathetic environments can't be much fun, even for creatures that are not equipped with human intellect and awareness. You know, chickens in cages, hogs in pens, calves in crates, Rosie O'Donnell in "The View."

Even sworn meat eaters are likely to be a little uneasy about the agribusiness tactics of confinement that render the steak tender. So most of us, instead of giving up the lamb chops, choose simply not to think about it. If you like barbecue, you simply can't be concerned about whether or not the donor grew up depressed.

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But for all the caring carnivores out there, I have great news. Science is about to solve the problem.

No, science has not figured out a way to allow animals to romp and play on the range while remaining fork-tender. Instead, it's addressing the problem from the other end.

Animals will remain caged in ridiculously cramped quarters. But they'll be genetically engineered so they will be too ignorant to realize they're being mistreated.

How brilliant is that?

"Scientists are actively investigating ways to remove the stress and aggression gene from animals, effectively turning them into complacent zombies," writes the London Daily Mail.

Scientists say "it might become technically possible to produce 'animal vegetables' - beasts which are 'highly prolific and oblivious to their physical and mental status.'"

A little Prozac for your pork chop.

"Sir, how would you like your steak?"

"Medium stupid."

Talk about staying one step ahead of PETA. Who can argue about a brain-dead lump of protoplasm that does nothing but expand until it has a tenderloin the size of a love seat?

All this time, science fiction has been ginning up fears that genetic engineering could lead to animals that are super-smart. Who knew it would be the other way around?

Cramped cages? They won't even need cages. The rooster won't be able to figure out that by putting one foot in front of another he can actually get somewhere.

Who needs free-range chickens when you have special-needs chickens? You don't go to the slaughterhouse in the cattle truck, you go in the short bus.

Whether this dumbing down of farm animals is necessary is hard to say. I raised chickens when I was a boy, and it's not like they spent their days shooting dice, or engaging any other entertainment more complex than making life miserable for the grubs.

It was a pretty basic social structure. The hens spent their days scratching for bugs and the roosters spent their days breaking each other's necks. I can't say I spent a lot of time thinking about their relative happiness, although some did seem to have borderline personalities.

How much of this was attributable to their native intelligence and how much was attributable to the fact that I had just shoveled out the coop and was overcome by fumes is difficult to say. But they seemed content enough, at least until we lopped off their melons.

And to my knowledge, no farmer I worked for ever thought about castrating the pigs and giving them a lobotomy while they were at it. The food chain was the food chain. At butchering time, you rounded up the hogs and life went on. Well, theirs didn't, but you get the drift.

It is hard to figure whether an animal would be happier by not knowing that it was unhappy. You walk through the veal pens and some genetically altered calf is standing there going "la-la-la, la-la-la" and maybe it makes you feel better about things, but I'm not so sure about the critter. And is it really necessary to go to all the trouble to genetically alter the cow into a stupor? Seems to me like you could just get it drunk.

Look, if knowing your hog was in a fog makes you feel better about eating spare ribs, then fine. But since they all end up the same way anyway - dead - what's the difference?

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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