Agricultural animals, by definition, must have utility. There are dozens of desirable agricultural phenotypes, even within a species, and they vary according to the hundreds of agricultural environments on our planet. In the course of domestication and husbandry of animals, phenotypes have continually evolved, a process that has accelerated over the past century. Specifying desirable phenotypes of future farm animals has become exceedingly complex and now includes characteristics such as carbon footprint, minimization of greenhouse gases, and modifying methods and products to adapt to wants of consumers and activists, many of whom have no connection with agriculture.
The tools for attaining phenotypic improvements of animals include increasingly powerful biotechnologies, which are sometimes oversold. In some cases the biotechnologies even drive phenotypes, as, for example, sperm of dairy bulls have become more tolerant of cryopreservation since bulls whose semen does not tolerate cryopreservation leave few progeny due to extensive use of artificial inseminations with frozen semen. In any case, biotechnologies are tools, and should be used to benefit mankind as well as animals. There are costs to making any change in animal agriculture (including making no change), and the benefit to cost ratio should be the main consideration in evaluating a change. Benefits, such as many fewer people killed by bulls through use of artificial insemination, and costs, such as discomfort to animals due to confinement, also need to be considered when evaluating biotechnologies. Baggage such as whether the technology was developed by a company vs. nonprofit organization or whether DNA was modified in the laboratory vs. a “natural” mutation should be minor considerations relative to efficacy, minimizing undesirable side effects, and what is best for the animals and the environment.
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