Sunday, July 25, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

Four Legged Chickens

Zoran saw the chicken too late to stop his speeding car from clipping it with the right front fender. He pulled over to the side of the road to check on the chicken. The bird had looked odd as it crossed the road. The farmer sauntered over as Zoran was standing over the dead chicken.
"It's dead, is it?" the farmer said.
"Yes, yes, it's dead alright."
The farmer leaned in to get a better look at the dead chicken. He made a low clucking sound in his throat.
Zoran looked at the farmer. "Please," he said, "can you tell me about this chicken?"
"What about it?" the farmer said.
"Well, it has four legs," Zoran said.
"Oh that," said the farmer. "Well everybody around here has grown to love barbecued chicken legs."
Zoran looked at the farmer. "And?"
"And we crossed the chickens with rabbits and got four legged chickens."
"Oh, I see," said Zoran. "Very clever. And how do they taste?"
"Don't know," said the farmer. "Never able to catch one until now."

Well, we aren’t seeing farmers cross-breeding rabbits with chickens, but a Massachusetts company says it's on the verge of receiving federal approval to market a quick-growing Atlantic salmon that's been genetically modified with help from a Pacific Chinook salmon. If approved by the FDA, this fast growing salmon will be the first transgenic animal headed for our dinner tables.

Transgenic? Is that anything like transgender, you might ask. No. It’s a genetically engineered organism that has inserted DNA that originated in a different species. According to an article by Les Blumenthal (McClatchy), researchers have added a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon as well as an on-switch gene from the ocean pout, a distant relative of the salmon, to a normal Atlantic salmon's roughly 40,000 genes. Salmon normally feed only during the spring and summer, but when the on-switch from the pout's gene is triggered, they eat year round. Like us. The result is a transgenic salmon that grows to market size in about half the time as a normal salmon — 16 to 18 months, rather than three years. Just the way we grow to over sized in about the same length of time. I wonder if there’s a gene that can turn off my desire for ice cream?

Genetic engineering of our food crops has been going on for some time, but this will be the first time an animal that we commonly eat will undergo the procedure. Unless you eat mice, that is. The majority of transgenic animals produced so far are mice. In fact, they pioneered the technology; the clever little cuties.

Rabbits, pigs, sheep, and cattle have also undergone the procedure experimentally, but we aren’t eating them – as far as I know.

Are there any dangers involved in genetically engineering stuff we eat? None whatsoever. Just as there’s no danger in deep-ocean drilling for oil...oh, yeah. I forgot.
Well, let's exam the pros and cons of genetically engineering these fast growing salmon and see what conclusions we can draw generally. We’ll do that in a future post on An Unexpected Error. For now, bon appetite.