Climate Chickens: Farm Animals Of The Future

  • Date: 10/05/14
  • Walter Russell Mead, The American Interest

Crops are being genetically modified to withstand adverse conditions, but the effort doesn’t stop at the salad bar. Researchers are working on ways to genetically modify animals to be more resilient to the myriad changes our warming planet is said to be experiencing.

Developing chickens for a hot planet

Chickens mill inside a coop at the University of Delaware, where researchers are working on creating new breeds of poultry that would be resilient in the face of climate change. (Kathy F. Atkinson / University of Delaware)

As the LA Times reports, scientists are hard at work on making sure future generations will have meat on their plates, as well as GMO veggies:

Warmer temperatures can create huge problems for animals farmed for food. Turkeys are vulnerable to a condition that makes their breast meat mushy and unappetizing. Disease rips through chicken coops. Brutal weather can claim entire cattle herds. [...]

[Michigan State University professor Gale Strasburg's] research involves turning up the heat lamps several degrees on hundreds of turkey chicks, as well as on turkey eggs before they hatch. Researchers will then study the animals’ muscles and attempt to parse out genes that could help the animals endure hotter environments. The hope is ultimately to enable the industry to breed turkeys resilient to heat waves. [...]

The scientists working to craft breeds of animals that can cope with a warmer climate argue that they, too, are focused on depleting fewer resources…At Oklahoma State University, scientist Megan Rolf says her efforts could result in herds of cattle that consume less water and feed…”The idea is to create animals that are more efficient,” Rolf said.

The environmentalist’s response is as predictable as it is misguided: carnivorous habits aren’t worth saving, and we should all become vegetarians. Of course, that’s never going to happen. Research has shown that this call to just eat kale is extremely divisive among the general population, to the point where it can lead to a backlash against the entire green movement.

In lieu of that, we’re best served pursuing ways to make our food supplies more efficient and more resilient. In addition to genetically modified chickens and turkeys, there is also encouraging progress being made in vat-grown meat, which according to the Economist “is estimated to use up to 45% less energy, 99% less land and 96% less water than farming, as well as to spew out 78-96% fewer greenhouse gases.”

Our climate is changing and humanity keeps growing. Those two trends are related to one another, but they also present a duel challenge, one of the biggest we will have to face in the coming decades: how do we feed the some 9 billion people estimated to be around by 2050 in a warmer world with more extreme weather?

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