University of Florida Scientists Receive $733,000 Grant to Genetically Modify Cows, Making them Heat-Resistant
Researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are planning to genetically modify cows to make them “more resistant” to heat, so that they’ll better survive global warming.
No, this is not a joke, and they have the money to prove it: the US federal government is funding the project for three years. The value of the grant (and cost to taxpayers): $733,000.
Is it as crazy as it sounds? Here’s what the researchers are proposing specifically:
1. The researcher’s goal is to ensure American cows can survive at higher average temperatures, while preserving the beef’s quality.
2. To do this, the researchers will study cows which already thrive in hot conditions, particularly the Brangus cow, to see how they regulate their body temperature.
3. Once this is understood at the genetic level, the team plans to isolate said gene and import it into other cattle species using CRISPR gene-editing technology.
One of the researchers, Dr Rachel Mateescu, said:
Heat stress is a principal factor limiting production of animal protein and negatively affecting health and welfare of cattle in subtropical and tropical regions, and its impact is expected to increase dramatically due to climate change […] the ability to cope with heat stress is imperative to enhance productivity of the U.S. livestock industry and secure global food supplies.
Basically the argument runs as follows: the world is getting hotter due to global warming, and this is bad for American cows. Therefore, we should genetically modify our cows to make them tolerate the heat better.
Why Are Heat-Resistant GMO Cows Unnecessary?
While this newspaper firmly defends science, and has been on the receiving end of histrionic responses for our articles defending radioisotopic medicine and the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizer, this particular idea is, in a word, bull.
It is a waste of everyone’s time and money. Why?
First, the entire premise is silly. If we believe climate scientists (who have a notoriously poor predictive track record), even the hottest models only predict that global temperatures will rise by a few degrees Celsius.
Such small changes in temperature will have no effect on the cattle industry.
Right now cows are bred and raised in climates as disparate as Scotland (cold and wet), Alberta (cold and dry), India (hot and wet), and Ethiopia (hot and dry).
There is no climate too hot for cows—there’s a breed for everything.
In fact, the researchers plan to begin their study by looking at how today’s cows deal with the heat. This is a solved problem.
This brings me to my second point: we already know how animal husbandry works, so this entire study is pointless. In fact, the Brangus cow they’re studying is actually a cross-breed between Angus and Brahman cows (from Scotland and India) that was bred specifically to solve this problem.
Basically, there is no problem, and if there was, it’s already been solved.
This is just a ploy to get research money, and a chance to meddle with complex systems—two very good reasons to shut it down.