Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Genetic testing of beef

I've just started re-reading Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America. This Health (!) column in yesterday's WSJ punctuates Berry's dis-ease with industrial agriculture: "Better-Tasting Beef Through Genetic Testing?" by Antonio Regalado and Scott Kilman (paid subscription required).

MetaMorphix and Cargill announced that they are now able to identify the genetic markers for "desirable beef traits." The WSJ article underscores the industrial flavor of raising beef.
Over the next year or so, Cargill says it will experiment with whether it can tailor the diets of cattle to their genetic predisposition when they arrive at one of its feedlots -- where they are fattened on grain for several months.

Cattle lacking the genes for tasty meat, for example, might be denied expensive diets since they aren't as likely to be valuable. "If there is an animal that's never going to reach restaurant grade, you could just feed it to the max and get it through the system," Metamorphix's Dr. Denise says.

Cattle expected to yield the highest quality beef are typically fattened more gradually and given fewer growth-promoting drugs.
Hmmmm. So people who eat meat and who cannot afford the better grades of meat get meat produced with more drugs??

The article goes on to emphasize the need for predictability and consistency in industrial farming.
Genetic screening also could help bring order to one of the most chaotic parts of the food chain. So far, the cattle industry has resisted the factory farming techniques that have swept through the chicken and hog sectors. Companies such as Tyson Foods Inc. and Smithfield Foods Inc. have brought down the cost of raising chickens and hogs by rearing them indoors and controlling every aspect of their lives.

As a result, the quality of retail packages of pork and chicken has grown more consistent. Beef cattle, however, are slow to reproduce and are still raised on open land. More than 800,000 farmers raise all sorts of cattle breeds and crossbreeds, leaving beef packers to cope with a wide variety in the quality of the cattle they buy.

Genetic screens could help Cargill sort through animals that end up in its feedlots without making massive investments in infrastructure. "We have a tool to vertically integrate based on information," said Mark Klein, a Cargill spokesman.
Diversity is so inconvenient and inefficient!

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