Breeding for Welfare
Selective breeding and genomic insights have fueled rapid increases in the growth of animals like chickens. This has caused a great deal of health problems and distress for the animals. While rates of veganism and similar lifestyle choices are increasing, trends show that global animal production is still rising rapidly, especially in countries experiencing high economic growth.
Cultured meat may be decades away from competing on cost, and currently relies on blood serum derived from calf fetuses (FBS). While investment in animal alternatives to FBS and other products is important, staggering numbers of animals will inevitably exist in the near future, and they require more immediate protection.
Why are chickens so large?
A significant portion of breeding efforts in poultry production has been focused on growth traits, such as body weight and feed conversion efficiency. This is because larger and faster-growing birds can reach market weight sooner, resulting in increased profitability for producers.
Traditional breeding methods involve selecting animals based on observable characteristics, such as size, weight, or color. This process is indirect and can take many generations. While traditional breeding can be effective in achieving the desired aims of the breeder, it has limitations, such as the inability to accurately predict the genetic potential of offspring.
Instead of relying solely on traditional breeding methods, which can take years and produce unpredictable outcomes, genomic selection enables breeders to select animals based on their genetic makeup. Genomic selection uses genetic information to identify specific genes associated with desirable traits before breeding. By analyzing an animal's DNA, breeders can predict an animal's genetic potential.
Could animals be bred to experience less physical and emotional pain?
Genomic selection has revolutionized many industries, but breeders have primarily used it to maximize financially rewarding traits. Physical and emotional sensitivity is critical but almost completely ignored. By using genomic selection, breeders can identify animals with genetic sequences that make them less vulnerable to these emotional states.
Examples of neurogenetic traits that could reduce sensitivity to pain in farm animals are those affecting endorphins and endocannabinoids. These substances are natural painkillers. Animals with higher levels of these substances are likely to be less sensitive to pain, and are therefore more resilient to stress and negative emotion.
By identifying animals with these genetic traits through genomic selection, breeders can select for animals that are less sensitive to physical and emotional pain. This approach could also have benefits for farmers, as animals that are less sensitive are also less likely to experience production losses caused by concomitant health problems. Additionally, they are less likely to attack their cohabitants and human handlers.
To learn more about the specific genetic sequences breeders can select for, you can read more about our research. Common examples include healthy humans and non-humans with higher pain tolerances, as well as a few exceptionally well-off individuals with specific gene mutations.