Friday, May 24, 2013

Feeding the World with Test Tube Cows

Heifer International boasts of having “the most important gift catalog in the world.”  They provide calves and goats for poor farmers to feed their families, right?  Not exactly. Here are some other places your Heifer money goes:

In 2009, Heifer funded the development of Kenya’s first test-tube calf using a technique called in vitro embryo production (IVEP).  The International Livestock Research Institute, which is creating these franken-foods, explains that with traditional breeding, cows can produce only 10-15 offspring in the course of a normal lifespan, whereas “IVEP can produce up to 300 offspring per life span.”

Why would you want to boost a cow's reproduction rate by 2000 percent?  Because, according to the ILRI, “livestock is the fastest growing sub-sector in the world, as increasing trends of 114% in demand for meat and 133% for milk attest. To improve on food security, it is essential to double livestock production in the developing world by 2020. IVEP is clearly one of the most efficient ways to accomplish this.”

Never mind that countries like Mexico and Taiwan which have shifted to a meat centered diet have lowered food security.  And never mind that the Kenya Meat Commission is already exporting 500 tons of food per week out of the country.  Test tube cows must be the answer, according to the Heifer funded project.

“Doubling livestock production through traditional breeding techniques increases pressure on natural resources: water, land and biodiversity,” according to the report. “Again, IVEP, which requires only laboratory equipment in the production process, comes to the rescue.”

Huh?  In terms of environmental impacts, I’m not sure how breeding calves in the lab improves on mother nature.  What I am sure about is that we’re a long way from the Heifer catalog covers with photos of smiling children holds lambs.

Maybe it’s time chuck “the most important gift catalog in the world.” 


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