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Are Genetically Modified Chickens in our Future?

As reported at BBC.com, scientists have created the world’s first flu resistant genetically modified (GM) chickens that do not spread bird flu.  Researchers have inserted an artificial gene into chickens; this introduces a tiny part of the bird flu virus into chicken cells. These birds become infected without being able to spread the virus to other poultry.  Will consumers embrace this new frontier or have modern scientists just gone too far this time?  Does the good outweigh the unknown side affects? Only time will tell.  More than 500,000 people get sick every year from Campylobacter, a bacteria found in chickens.  Researchers think this technology has the potential to boost food production and reduce costs overall as the demand for animal products increases over the next couple of years and expenses go up.  This news is also receiving a cautious welcome from the poultry industry.  Peter Bradrock of the British Poultry Council said more research was needed to assess the long term impact on farm animals before food producers would even consider using this technology.  Tim Elsdale an organic farmer from East Sussex said it would be better to adopt better farming practices to avoid animals getting disease in the first place than to create genetically modified farm animals.  Farmers could use what we call today “organic methods” of farming, that is animals living in a more natural environment and eating foods that are more normal to their environment with more open spaces to live and roam instead of the extremely tight quarters that are so common today that breed disease.

Student Researchers:  Allen (Alex) Wynne, Indian River State College

Jasmine Jackson, Indian River State College

Faculty Instructor:  Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College

Source:

Pallab Ghosh ,“World’s first flu resistant GM chickens ‘created’,”  BBC News , January 13, 2011 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12181382

 Discussion

            If one considers the increased volume of food that would be produced and less sickness in livestock due to lack of the flu, one would think that the good outweighs the bad for all considered. The human population is growing so rapidly, the demand for food is increasing.  The poultry industry is always looking for a quicker way to bring the chicken to the market.  Less sick chickens mean more food at everyone’s table and lower chicken prices.  Last year more than 500,000 people got sick from influenza (the flu), so one might conclude that GM chicken produces the most favorable balance of good over evil.

However, by tampering with the genetic code of any living organism there can be health consequences either now or in the future. There are also food safety concerns including allergies, digestive disorders, and antibiotic resistance.  Infants and older people are at a greater risk for some of these issues and even younger healthy people with good digestive tracts could be at risk because food products containing antimicrobial proteins could alter the intestinal flora, fostering the evolution of microbial stains resistant to specific agents.  Multiple studies have confirmed the dangers of consuming GM ingredients, including a prominent study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences.  The researchers found that the organs that typically respond to chemical food poisoning were the first to encounter problems after GM foods were consumed.  It is also likely that some of these genetically altered animals will escape back to their natural habitats and start breeding, interfering with our ecosystem, forever changing the environment.

People should be made aware through packaging which products have been genetically modified so they can make the choice to purchase them or not.  There should also be tight rules governing GM products. This is such a new topic; there are very little rules in place. The FDA needs to have very clear, strict guidelines to govern this and be responsible to provide the public with all information regarding the testing and results of GM animals.

Companies that make these modified animals claim that they are saving animals from dying, but are actually looking for more cost effective ways to increase their bottom lines. The health of humans is less important to many corporations; this is a reason why the dangers of GM animals should be brought to people’s attention by the media. As of now it is unknown if the chicken at the dinner table is GM chicken.

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