Cow Cruelty Condoned by Anti-GMO Groups

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It must be really tough for those among us who oppose science. For us advocates, when we see something wrong in the world we can rally behind science and work to attempt meaningful change. Edward Jenner noted that something must be done to stop the devastating impact of smallpox, so he developed the first real vaccine and revolutionized how we treat infectious diseases. Norman Borlaug, one of ACSH's founders, noted that science could revolutionize agriculture, and through his work he saved roughly one billion people from starvation. Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer saw modified rice, a staple crop of Asia, as a potential delivery vehicle for vitamin A and as a means to treat the millions of vitiamin-deficient children each year.

We're still waiting on that last advance to be embraced, but when it is science will be able to check "solved" on yet another societal problem. But for those who reject science, life must be tough. They will never be able to find and implement real and meaningful solutions to the world's problems. Their rejection of sciences limits their ability to improve the world.

Take climate change, for example. NGOs like the Sierra Club, GreenPeace and the Organic Consumers Association preach that carbon emissions must be cut to fend off our planet's rising temperature. Science has offered several solutions in the form of GMOs: rice that doesn't produce methane; crops that sequester nitrogen to block nitrous oxide from leaking into the atmosphere; and herbicide-tolerant crops that require less pesticide application of pesticides, and therefore require fewer passes by a CO2 emitting tractor. However, these organizations reject these planet-saving crops because--they embrace science.

Well, here's another problem science is working to solve: animal cruelty. In the dairy industry, cows have to be de-horned to protect the farmer and other cows. Mother Jones has the story of how this process happens: "A farmer presses a hot iron into the scalp of a wide-eyed calf, burning away tissue that is beginning to turn into horns. She writhes, moaning pathetically, and collapses in the dirt." The process even makes farmers squeamish, and they would love to eliminate this overly cruel act.

Scott Fahrenkrug, formerly a professor in the department of animal science at the University of Minnesota, watched a video of this procedure and realized there was an opportunity for modern science to intercede with a humane solution. Fahrenkrug knew that some cows naturally don't have horns referred to as "polled" and thought their genetics may provide a way to stop these dreadful de-hornings. In the past, others have tried to use polled cows to bypass de-horning. However, polled cows are poor milk producers. But the genetics of polled cows is fairly straightforward, and thanks to advances in an important gene-editing technique called CRISPR-Cas9, Fahrenkrug was able to insert the necessary genes into cows. The result: polled cows that produce normal amounts of milk.

Fahkrenkurg, who now runs the bio-ag startup Recombientics, has other ideas in the pipeline. These include cows that have higher milk yield and are more tolerant to the warming planet, as well as meatier pigs. However, anti-GMO activists are fighting back. In fact Fahkrenkurg will not divulge the location of his GE cows, for fear the activists will destroy them. If these activists care about animals and the environment, it stands to reason they would endorse these cruelty-free breeds. But what they really care about is their anti-science rhetoric and collecting donations.