In an effort to help meet the needs of the 21st-century meat industry, researchers at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (a taxpayer-funded institution) are using new breeding techniques and surgery to “re-engineer” farm animals so they can produce more offspring.

And once again, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

As reported in the New York Times, there have been some horrible complications …

Pigs are having many more piglets — up to 14, instead of the usual eight — but hundreds of those newborns, too frail or crowded to move, are being crushed each year when their mothers roll over. Cows, which normally bear one calf at a time, have been retooled to have twins and triplets, which often emerge weakened or deformed, dying in such numbers that even meat producers have been repulsed.

Then there are the lambs. In an effort to develop “easy care” sheep that can survive without costly shelters or shepherds, ewes are giving birth, unaided, in open fields where newborns are killed by predators, harsh weather and starvation.

Last Mother’s Day, at the height of the birthing season, two veterinarians struggled to sort through the weekend’s toll: 25 rag-doll bodies. Five, abandoned by overtaxed mothers, had empty stomachs. Six had signs of pneumonia. Five had been savaged by coyotes.

“It’s horrible,” one veterinarian said, tossing the remains into a barrel to be dumped in a vast excavation called the dead pit.

Of course, with any type of experimentation on animals, there will be complications, health issues and fatalities. The unfortunate part, however, is that these experiments are not even necessary.

The Diffusion of Fear

Most politicians, and the corporations that fund them will tell you centralized food production, complete with the crutch of biotechnology, is the only way to feed a growing global population.

But the truth is, backyard gardens and multi-speciation are considerably more productive per acre.

It is, in fact, a de-centralized model that can better feed communities. And as an added benefit, this also allows for growth in local economies and acts as a hedge against the uncertainty of energy prices.

Of course, there’s not much of an incentive for bureaucrats to get on board with this because local communities and small farmers can’t afford an army of lawyers and a gaggle of lobbyists. And other than a few really smart and aggressive individuals, few are willing to go toe to to with industrial farming apologists.

*Read Joel Salatin’s piece on this very issue to get a valuable lesson in industrial farming

However, if we want to feed a growing population, and do so in a responsible, sustainable way, we need to silence the lawmakers who don’t know the first thing about farming, and look to local farmers who, year after year, successfully run their operations without the help of the synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and welfare checks from the government.

This idea that only biotech and centralized food production can save the world from starvation is a myth. It has been conjured up by industries that live and die by government funding and a rhetorical diffusion of fear.

Soulless Widgets

As an animal lover, I also have a very hard time accepting the fact that taxpayers are funding the operations of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center.

I don’t believe it is wrong to use animals for food, draft power, companionship or personal service. However, I do think it’s wrong to treat animals as soulless widgets.

For centuries, farmers have raised animals in a sustainable and compassionate manner, allowing them to live good, happy lives. There is nothing wrong with this, and in fact should be commended, not ridiculed. This is why I buy my meat from local, responsible producers, where those who raise these animals are doing right by Mother Nature. And guess what? They have no problem feeding folks in their communities – and at a price that is competitive with industrially-produced meat, which, by the way, has been heavily subsidized by the government.

I posted a short video about this at the bottom of the original version of this piece, which can be found here.