Many livestock farmers in the rich world use biotechnology. Some of the biotech that farmers use is familiar outside the world of farming, because it’s also used for humans. Some of the biotech is controversial.
Here’s an article about how biotech can be useful in the livestock industries. In the article, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) describes how biotech can get animals to reproduce. The article also describes how biotech can help in breeding better animals but that’s a topic for other posts on this blog.
To get animals to reproduce, sometimes the best way is the natural way. Run a bull with your cows, a tup with your sheep or a cockerel with your hens. In the right season and with the right conditions, that works. But sometimes farmers turn to biotech. In Britain, turning to biotech can mean turning to Innovis.
Why use biotech to make your animals breed? For a start biotech can be more reliable, cheaper and safer than natural mating. The most familiar biotech solution is artificial insemination (AI). AI allows a stud male to sire more offspring than he could do by natural mating and it allows farmers to avoid having him on their land. Especially for cattle. You don’t want to find out the hard way how it feels to be attacked by a bull. Dairy bulls are notoriously dangerous but even beef bulls can get nasty, especially when they’re not with cows. In Britain if there’s a public footpath or bridlepath across your land, or if your land is classed as ‘open access’, the law forbids you to graze adult dairy bulls and lonely beef bulls.
AI has become the usual way to get dairy cows pregnant in Britain. The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) regulates AI for cattle. AI is also used for other livestock including sheep, pigs and poultry.
Charlotte Johnston at The Cattle Site tells us how farmers can improve their herds’ AI results by using sexed semen. That costs extra, of course, but it’s one way to reduce the wastage of genetic resources, and the risk of welfare violations, which arise when cows produce unwanted bull calves.
A more expensive option than AI is in vitro fertilization (IVF). In livestock, particularly in dairy cattle, the ISAAA article explains why IVF is exciting biotech for livestock farmers. It has great potential for breed improvement. So does embryo transfer (surrogacy).
The ISAAA article also describes somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). This is a method for cloning. SCNT doesn’t grow new animals from embryonic cells, which naturally differentiate into other cell types as the embryo grows into a new individual. In SCNT, animals are cloned from somatic cells which, in the normal way of things, can’t differentiate into other cell types.
SCNT was famously used to make Dolly the sheep. Since Dolly, there’s been a lot of discussion about livestock cloning and about whether it should be done commercially in the European Union. Here’s what DEFRA says about livestock cloning. But it’s already being done commercially in the United States. Here’s what the US Food and Drug Administration says about livestock cloning.
IVF, embryo transfer and cloning aren’t widely used in Britain’s livestock industries. Not yet, but that might change. In a few years’ time, biotech for livestock might take us to an ‘embryocentric world’.
The ISAAA article also describes how biotech can help in breeding better animals but that’s a topic for other posts on this blog. I’ve written about genetic modification (GM) in livestock but that’s not all that biotech can offer to livestock farmers. The ISAAA article goes on to discuss DNA-based biotech including methods to select for desirable genes, against undesirable genes, and to screen the industry’s products for ingredients that shouldn’t be there.
Farm landscapes can look idyllic. But don’t be fooled. There’s a lot of biotechnology being used there.