The U.S. government and other Western investors are backing China to be the world’s leading producer of replacement body parts for humans in need. Corporations are circling the common trough of investment and rather than wallowing in the miasma of cybersecurity and squealing over tariffs and trade they are rooting for each other in a cooperative agreement of venture capitalism. This is hardly some ground-breaking transcultural event since the shared values of East and West make them one profit-driven culture seizing an opportunity to apply biotechnology to alter pigs so their body parts can be used to replace defective human body parts.
This transnational convergence and mutuality of interest has no higher ground in the barn yard of world trade than profiting from producing patented pigs to provide new ways to treat human diseases, especially the diseases of civilization that are a potential market for organ transplants. Some of these diseases come from the pigs themselves like the often devastating influenza virus epidemics and strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can even shut down our kidneys and eat our flesh. These bacterial strains are a result of the pigs being fed antibiotics to stimulate growth and prevent diseases in the stressful, crowded sheds they are raised in and that are an occupational hazard for factory farm workers. Other diseases come as a result of the porcine-transformation of the average consumer’s body due to multiple factors including unwise food choices and addictions, improper nutrition and lifestyles, often leading to organ failure and calling for new organs and other body parts.
The new remedy offered by the biotech’s animal engineering involves yet further exploitation of these animals that are known for their intelligence, curiosity, playfulness and empathy yet are treated as mere commodities. Now, pigs are being genetically edited to serve as human surrogates by making them more immuno-compatible for human patients who need a new heart, kidney, lungs or liver. Many monkeys, all of whom sooner or later die, are being used as recipients in transplantation research and commercial development laboratories.
Peter with pig-heart and Lavinia with pig-liver may be citizens of the future now that this interspecies organ transfer has been made safer through a new biotechnology enabling specific genetic and retroviral deletions. They will join Arnold with pig- heart- valves and the millions of others with better heart valves “harvested” from the conventional pigs which most of them have enjoyed eating. The first generation of pigs producing organs and other body parts to repair humans approved by the U.S. federal authorities will soon come from China.
According to a Reuters Science News, April 12th 2017, “Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, has established a separate bioscience unit to expand its role in supplying pig parts for medical uses, with the ultimate goal of selling pig organs for transplantation into humans. Smithfield, the $14 billion subsidiary of China’s WH Group, in its first move has joined a public-private tissue engineering consortium funded by an $80 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. Smithfield is the only pork producer, joining health-care companies including Abbott Laboratories, Medtronic and United Therapeutics Corp.”
That the U.S. Department of Defense has invested in making pigs our saviors may well be for the benefit of America’s future warriors and heroes with damaged bodies and organs from the WWE— the war without end. Thousands of pigs have been used to test military weapons, explode land mines and for surgeons to learn how to deal best with gunshot wounds and other traumatic injuries. Meanwhile millions of American pigs are given a daily dose of a psychotropic drug, Ractopamine, a beta adrenergic agonist, in their feed. This puts them in a chronic state of hypervigilance, fearfulness, irritability and aggressivity, but it makes them grow faster and leaner. China and over 150 other countries will not accept pork from America’s drugged pigs because of consumer health concerns over Ractopamine residues. (This drug is also fed to beef cattle and resulted in a horse-feed recall in 2017 because of Ractopamine contamination).
But now, looking beyond Pork Belly futures, China and America are on a collaborative venture to elevate pigs to the human savior level as life-giving and sustaining organ and tissue donors. Some will claim this is a humane alterative to the underground human organ trade with its past horrors of China harvesting from its prison population, and the desperately poor, from India to Syria, selling an organ to help their families. But when is enough, enough, so far as our exploitation and contrived dependence on other sentient beings, now to a degree beyond dominion and descending in to a kind of genetic parasitism condoned in an ethical vacuum of self-interest? But what else to do, considering our ever increasing numbers, appetites and the deteriorating conditions of human existence?
Pigs may secularize religions as rabbis and imams sanction the instrumental rationalism of helping people enjoy better health and even have their lives saved with pig organ and tissue transplants— but still prohibit their consumption because they are “unclean.” Some might call it cannibalistic to eat the meat of these quazi-humanized donor pigs. Hindus, who seek same-caste human organ donors, and like Buddhists believe in reincarnation, may be concerned about the cosmic consequences of humanizing pigs and “porcinizing” humans. While Pope Francis cautions in his encyclical Laudato Si’ that “all such use and experimentation (on animals) requires religious respect for the integrity of creation.” ( LS:130), secular and religious beliefs are likely to continue to be human-centered and the other war without end against disease and world-wide hunger for meat intensify the holocaust of the animal kingdom and the natural world: our last pig-out on planet Earth. But in the vision of seeking pig liberation from factory farms and bio-pharms—producing body parts, fluids, hormones, antibodies, vaccines and pharmaceuticals from genetically engineered animals—we may ultimately find the wisdom, humility and courage to begin to heal ourselves.
For more details see NATURE | NEWS FEATURE. New life for pig-to-human transplants. Gene-editing technologies have breathed life into the languishing field of xenotransplantation. By Sara Reardon. 10 November 2015
*Author of Superpigs & Wondercorn: The Brave New World of Biotechnology and Where it All May Lead, and of the nationally syndicated newspaper column Animal Doctor with Universal Uclick. Website: www.drfoxvet.net