let's talk farm animals

Bill Gates gets it right on biotechnology

By Leslie Ballentine, Farm and food commentator

Genomics is a touchy subject, whether we are talking human or plant and animal. That is why the biotechnology debate can get so heated. In my opinion, and in the opinion of most in the farm and food sector, biotechnology gets a bad rap in these debates.

To use an old cliché, biotechnology is just one tool in the tool box whether it is used for food production, medical advances or to help the planet. It isn’t perfect all of the time but in my experience, the end results are rarely dangerous and usually beneficial.

The biotechnology arena is also hugely politicized. Commercial interests vie with public opinion. Science vies with emotions and beliefs. Markets vie with each other. Governments try to deal with the ensuing chaos – and often do it badly.  And of course, it’s nearly always more fashionable to be against something rather than for something.

So I was surprised to read that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made a donation to develop a new disease resistant strain of chicken. An announcement made in July, says that the foundation has given $1.6 million to the University of Georgia and U.S. Agriculture Department researchers to develop chickens resistant to Newcastle Virus. An old disease that remains a challenge for farmers to prevent and control.

In reading the announcement, I learned that the Newcastle Virus kills about one-quarter of the chickens raised in sub-Saharan Africa every year.  The lead researcher Steven Stice says, “[t]he virus can eventually kill an entire flock if it starts with just one.”

Biotech can help people, plants and animals

We here in the developed countries can limit the disease (but not eradicate it) through sanitation and flock protection methods, including medications.  But poor third world farmers don’t have our luxuries. So it makes perfect sense to give them a chicken that protects itself.

The Newcastle Virus, as with most animal diseases, is a problem for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia where poultry is an important source of income and protein for them and their families.  And the problem isn’t small. I was shocked to read that the virus can attack 17 billion chickens raised in the southern regions of Africa and Asia alone.

Dr. Stice is an animal and dairy professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and is director of the university’s Regenerative Bioscience Center.  His interests include discovering new treatments for degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis. He also does research into animal stem cells and leads a team that has produced more than 50 cloned calves and 100 cloned pigs. Dr. Stice’s team will use stem cells to create this new chicken.

By opposing biotechnologies such as this one, opponents are hurting both people and animals. But I guess that when those people and animals are far away their needs are easier to ignore. It is a good thing that the Bill Gates’ of the world can see through that opposition.

Until the next BLOG.


Posted by FFC on August 2nd, 2011 :: Filed under Animal health,Chickens,Feeding the world,Innovation and technology,Research
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3 Responses to “Bill Gates gets it right on biotechnology”

  1. John Wiebe
    August 2nd, 2011

    Actually, Genomics is not as touchy a subject as the idea of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Genomics itself is the use of the genetic map of a specific species to make more accurate predictions about the productivity potential of the offspring of individual parents. It has nothing to do with manipulating genes or bioengineering. Genomics at present is used by breeding companies that supply various animal species with animals for meat or milk production. So by looking at the genetic map of the parents, the breeder can naturally mate mother and father of say, a pig so that the pig will display the desired characteristics that are chosen by the farmer by looking at the genetic map. In effect, the animals can breed naturally, and produce offspring naturally. In the past the same has been done for decades and decades by farmers, by physically looking at the parents, and by keeping production charts over various generations selecting who the parents will be that produce the next generation of farm animals.
    Also, genomics is a very different thing than cloning, or the production of transgenic organisms.

  2. OFAC
    August 29th, 2011

    Thank you for clarifying the true meaning of Genomics John. It was not my intention to confuse the two and appreciate your input.
    Leslie Ballentine

  3. Mesh Gates
    February 14th, 2012

    Mesh Gates…

    [...]Bill Gates gets it right on biotechnology - Let’s Talk Farm Animals[...]…

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