By Maneka Gandhi
Over the years the human has taken upon himself to play God. And nowhere is it more evident than in the tinkering with the genetics of other species in order to make them more “attractive”, or to breed traits into them that fanciers might want. This is not done in just food animals – breeding cows with such large udders that they almost touch the ground – but in pet animals as well.
So many dog breeds have been invented: from two basic dogs several thousand years ago they are now more than 800 breeds. None of these dogs are in good health, but scientists who have done a study of several species from 1915 to now have highlighted the health problems that have arisen due to continued genetic manipulation.
The Bull Terrier has been bred to have a thicker skull and wider abdomen. In the process they have extra teeth and compulsive behaviour such as chasing their tails. Boxers’ noses have been bred to become shorter and more upturned, which means that they have developed the problems common to flat-faced dogs.
They have trouble regulating body heat as well as breathing normally. Boxers also have a high risk of cancer. The Basset Hound has been bred to have shorter legs, droopier eyes, ears and skin The rear legs have changed in structure making it painful for the dog to walk. With huge proportions, a flat face, and wide hips, the English Bulldog suffers from almost every possible disease. The average life expectancy of the dog is about six years . The Dachshund’s proportions have changed so that it now has an even longer back and shorter legs. Most of them have intervertebral disc disease which can lead to paralysis. The German Shepherd has declined in abilities and health due to its increase in size and change in proportions. There was a time when the GSD could clear a 2.5 meter wall. Now it can barely drag itself around because of its hip problems. Over time the Pug’s flat face has become even more extreme. They have high blood pressure and heart problems. The double-curled tail, that’s so desirable, is actually a defect that can cause paralysis. St. Bernards have been bred over the past 100 years to be oversized and have smooshed faces. They also have excess skin, which leads to infection. They suffer from eye problems, paralysis, haemophilia, osteosarcoma, aphakia, and fibrinogen deficiency. The Puli was an agile and acrobatic Hungarian watch dog. Now it has been bred with so much hair that it cannot see and its hair is usually filthy and tangled. It looks like a moving furball. The huge, fat Korean Mastiffs have no face any more. Bred to have so much skin that their eyes have disappeared, they can hardly move and are sold as “extremely cuddly” and “very lazy”.
Cats are synonymous with agility and skill. So cat breeders, in an attempt to create something unique, created the Munchkin cat in 1989 which has been officially accepted as a new breed by the International cat association. Its speciality? It has stumps for legs, cannot jump and can hardly walk. Its stomach touches the ground.
Blood parrot cichlids were invented in Taiwan for the demanding 1980s pet market. These fish have gaudy colours and genetic abominations. They possess a slew of abnormalities, like a deformed mouth that interferes with chewing food, a malformed spine, and swim bladder disorders – which means they cannot eat or swim properly. But since they last only for a few weeks in small glass home aquariums and are mainly bought to liven up the furniture, no one cares about the pain they are in. And if that wasn’t enough, they are tattooed with messages. Even their malformed lips are tattooed to look like fish lipstick.
Goldfish have always been tampered with and all of them now have strange colours, extra fins, and feathered tails. The latest mutation is the most pathetic: the Bubble eyed goldfish. It took years of genetic experimentation to craft a fish that has large airbubbles round its eyes which look like cheeks. They are extremely fragile. The bubbles often pop or are pierced by other fish and they die in great pain. They cannot swim because of the floaters, living in a state of panic. Golden seahorses are the first genetically modified creatures to emerge from Vietnam. Gold dust was mixed with jellyfish proteins, then inserted into seahorse’s eggs.
Like the dog buyers, pigeon fanciers want stranger and stranger birds – and who cares if they cannot fly. Pigeons have been bred to have curled and frilled wing feathers, long feathered legs, protruding eyes and no beaks. The Jacobin pigeon looks as if it has a large feather duster stitched to its head, double the size of its head. Many of them have tumours hanging from their faces that look as if their brains have come out through their beaks. Reverse wing pouter pigeons have such enormous feathers growing around their legs that walking is an impossibility.
Biotechnology is a grand term for selective breeding to create varieties of animals and plants .Genetic engineering and selective breeding manipulate animals for human ends as if they were nothing more than human property, rather than treating the animals as being of value in themselves. Now you can even patent animals that you have “created”.
Modern pigs have been bred to grow extra fast – some breeds now grow too fast for their hearts, causing panic when the animal moves. Broiler chickens are bred to grow far too fat for their spindly legs to support them. Scientists in Israel have created a prototype of a breed of featherless chickens that can save time on plucking. The fact that the feathers on the chicken are there to protect them from parasites, harsh weather conditions, and overzealous cocks that can hurt the hen’s skin when mating, is of no concern. In Dubai scientists are working on camel DNA to modify them to produce curative proteins in their milk. Popeye Pigs have been inserted with a spinach gene that converts saturated fat into unsaturated fat (linoleic acid). Half animal, half vegetable, who knows how these animals suffer.
It seems like once the scientists figured out how to make glow-in-the-dark animals, they wasted no time in making as many animals into decorations. Cats have been injected with the glow-in-the-dark gene. So have fish. Even silk worms have been injected with glowing powers by Japanese scientists in order to create exotic silk for expensive dresses.
Animal welfare organisations have suggested that genetic engineers should be allowed to operate with the principle that “Genetically engineered animals should be no worse off than their parent stock would be if they were not so engineered.” But of course no government will bring this principle into law because the mafias of poultry and pig farmers, meat sellers, dog and cat breeders will all gang up to oppose this. And they will be joined by the “scientists” who earn from experimenting on animals in the name of science.
Transgenic animals are animals that have been deliberately bred for research. These animals are often deliberately created with genetic defects. A mouse has been created, for example, that has been genetically modified to develop cancer and suffers terribly. The same scientists would be appalled if one suggested that genetically engineered humans could be created so that their lab experiments would have more value.
About the author: Maneka Sanjay Gandhi is a Member of Parliament and leader of animal welfare movement in India. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org