Vegetarians International Voice for Animals

16: The End Is Nigh

There is a sense of society having reached a watershed. Disenchantment with politicians is almost absolute and few people have any belief in their ability to be truthful or to solve the overwhelming problems which confront us, some of which I have written about in this book.

We in the West have had two centuries or more of raping the rest of the world in order to bolster our way of life. We are surrounded by the legacy of that conduct. The centres of our large cities are places where brutality is squeezing out hope and where aspirations are being smothered at birth. Sub-cultures of disinterest and despair blossom where hope has been extinguished. The quest for knowledge and understanding has been subverted into a production line of industrial and commercial fodder.

With the exception of a privileged minority, which has a vested interest in wealth and power, it is almost impossible to find anyone who believes that we have discovered any answers to the questions of survival. Our continuance on this globe is in doubt because of greed, but still the only philosophy on offer is one of selfishness and individuality.

As a consequence, an armoury of laws and military tactics has been prepared for use against those who will never be amongst the favoured; to control those who express their frustrations in anger on the streets.

This is why the protesters against live exports offer encouragement to all of us. There is not one shred of self-interest in their actions, simply a heart-felt cry to place concern and care above the right to make profits. It is an eddy of hope in the middle of a powerful tide bearing us all towards an increasingly unsustainable future.

Part of this future is the new ‘salvation’ of genetic engineering. It is the latest in a long line of ‘miracles’ - nuclear energy, antibiotics, the green revolution - and just as all these had a dramatic downside, so will engineering experimentation. It’s just that no one is prepared to admit it.

The first acknowledgement of genetic ‘success’ was the granting of the very first patent for a life form at Harvard University in 1992. It was the oncomouse. This little creature was bred to develop cancer after only six weeks of life and immediately became a commodity for sale to vivisection laboratories, saving them the task of having to induce cancer in their own mice.

A whole string of similar experiments is taking place across the world. I’ve already mentioned the Belgian Blue cow (see page 84). Meanwhile, in the Swiss Brown cow, a gene has been deliberately activated to trigger a brain disease to which they’re susceptible. The reason is that cows which suffer from the disease naturally tend to have an increased milk yield. The US Department of Agriculture produced transgenic lambs with added growth hormone. Their fate was to develop degeneration of the liver and kidneys which was believed to have been caused by a form of diabetes. Other experimenters repeated the process with almost the same results. All the lambs involved in the experiment died of their diseases before they were 12 months old.

Experiments are also taking place to introduce a tobacco gene into sheep to act as an insect repellent and ward off blowfly strike.

Perhaps the most repellent experiment which has so far come to light took place in 1985 in the US when human growth hormones were introduced into a pig - the Beltsville pig. This poor creature was stricken with arthritis and when it tried to walk it could only crawl around on its knees. Most of the time it simply lay still, obviously stressed and in pain, incapable of fighting off a whole range of diseases which afflicted it. Despite this travesty, the Beltsville pig was capable of reproduction - but so far we have not been told what happened to its offspring.

The same National Cancer Institute, producer of the Beltsville pig, is still at it, playing creator with a range of animals, the latest of which is the supermouse. Cancer manifests itself by the uncontrolled growth of cells and they have used this fatal tendency to try and produce faster-growing food animals. Using a human gene which is linked to the growth of cancerous cells, they have, they claim, produced a mouse which grows to twice the normal size. They have not revealed their failures.

This gene is now being tried in pigs and although the results are secret, the BBC2 documentary Meat, transmitted in May 1995, indicated that the creatures suffer severe muscle wasting. In order to forestall public concern about the use of a cancer gene in human food, it has been renamed a ‘growth’ gene.

The same TV documentary revealed that in Israel, they have identified the gene which causes chickens’ necks to be scraggy and featherless and the one responsible for causing feathers to curl. By combining the two in experimental chickens they have produced a near-bald bird, its bare flesh exposed by the remaining curly feathers. And all so they can build broiler sheds in the inhospitable heat of the Negev desert.

All across the world, multinational agribusinesses have spent billions on developing animal and vegetable products and thousands of patents are pending. We know nothing of these corporations’ work, its failures and implications, but the products are on the way. They will come onto the market and be bought by an unsuspecting public, for the British Government, for one, has no intention of requiring labelling. So far in the UK only the Co-op has broken ranks and intends to label the food it sells as having been ‘genetically modified’.

Experimenters are playing with the 100 or so genes they have managed to map in complex animals which contain millions of genes, most of which are a total mystery to them. They have no idea what will be the result of mixing, matching and introducing entirely foreign genes.

So we can look forward to a future in which animals, including humans, will be the players in a huge improvised drama with no script and no known ending. The cast could include hairless pigs, sheep with even hairier coats, hibernating sheep, asexual cattle, pigs with cat leukaemia genes and vegetables with fish genes. The encore might well be vegetables that produce meat-like substances from animal genes - at least that is the intention.

The West’s stranglehold on the developing world will strengthen with the production of seeds that can only be grown with specific pesticides, ensuring even greater control over others’ agriculture and economies.

None of this, of course, has anything to do with feeding the starving of the world. Companies cloak their experiments with expressions of hope for the developing world, but these are the same people who could end world famine today if they so wished. Instead, the huge development expenditure will be recouped through high prices, ensuring that the products are placed out of reach of those who need feeding the most. Anyway, who needs a six-legged chicken which tastes of asparagus or an 80kg cauliflower that can whistle?

Around the globe, the conditions for warfare have been created as land, water and food, the basic requirements of life, start to diminish. And the only solution on offer is the policy which created these conditions. A restrospective view of the last few decades should send a chill running through us all because our path into the future will be charted from the same stars, the twinklings of an imploding society. The people who have made such a mess claim the right, the perception and the ability to solve the world’s problems. It’s like giving the National Front responsibility for race relations.

Perhaps the simplest and most easily understood indicator that our current leaders have got it wrong is their insistence that we are all motivated by our wallets. There are hundreds of millions of vegetarians in the world and not one is motivated by money. Some are concerned about health, others are appalled by the squalid exploitation and slaughter of animals, for some it is the environment which is the main issue and for the others the exploitation of developing countries. For most, it is a mixture of all these reasons.

Certainly the protesters who blockaded the ports of Brightlingsea, Dover and Shoreham and Coventry airport in all weathers did not first feel for their wallets; neither do the Viva! supporters who stand handing out leaflets and rattling tins for hours on end in high streets across the country; neither do the children who have flocked to our nationwide marches and spoken words to fill our eyes with tears and our hearts with hope.

This might be the start of a great movement for change. Certainly, such a simple and effective choice has rarely confronted people. By changing your diet you can take the first step in allowing the planet to breathe again, allowing the healing process to start. There is nothing else under your control that can immediately ease the destruction of the environment and begin to correct the impoverishment of the world’s poor. There is nothing else that can so effectively improve your own health and there is certainly nothing else that will have such an influence on ending the barbarous existence to which so many animals are subjected.

Compassion is one of the greatest human traits and it has been diminished to the point of frailty. If our children are to grow and prosper then we must reassert it and we must be aware that it is incompatible with our present society. Changing the world has to start with first changing ourselves and then the system under which we live.