Walking meat factories: cattle breeding gone way too far?


People have long used selective breeding to mold animals to their needs and desires. Just look at dogs. We’ve created varieties nature could never have imagined: Pomeranians, shih-tzus, dachshunds, and many others. Farm animals are no exception. One controversial example are Belgian blue cattle, the product of 50 years of intensive selective breeding.

The original version of the Belgian blue, named for the bluish-looking hair many of them have, was created back in the 1800s (there were a few updates in the 1950s). The idea was to have cattle that would yield large amounts of meat and milk. In this they succeeded. Belgian blues are enormous, tipping the scales at well over a ton, although they’re very lean in terms of fat. They’re ridiculously muscular, the result of the absence of a protein that inhibits muscle growth. While not literally true, Belgian blues are called “double-muscled.”

In principle, Belgian blues should be “walking meat factories,” efficiently turning their feed into muscle (that is, meat). In practice, the breed may really be a walking demonstration of false economy. While the selective breeding created large, productive cattle, these same cattle have a lot of problems. The problems start right at the beginning of their lives: the newborns are so large that Cesarean sections are routine. This is costly and risky and already seriously undermines the economic argument for these “efficient” cattle. While larger overall than normal cattle, the skeletons and internal organs of Belgian blues are about the same size. This causes all sorts of health problems, including difficulty breathing and heart conditions. It takes longer to raise blues and they need special high-protein feed, raising more questions about just how economical these cattle really are.

And then there’s the whole question of cruelty: is it really right to create a breed of animal that has so many health and welfare problems? Check out the video posted below and let us know what you think in the comments at Facebook. Don’t forget to like and share!

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