Queues at McDonalds are undiminished today. “It tastes good and it’s not like they’re real people,” says seven-year-old Anita Jeffries.
Fourteen years ago scientists at Genzyme unveiled a transgenic pig. Every organ of the pig can be used as substitutes for human organs in transplant operations. These pigs revolutionized surgery and dramatically extended lives, while reducing medical cost and creating new farming businesses.
Pig farmers raised huge herds to cope with the demand. But soon, too many of the transgenic pigs were being bred and some were appearing on dinner tables instead of operating tables.
“It is unacceptable, I am not a cannibal!” roars Jean-Marie Dumoupassant of the French Society for the Protection of Food. Dumoupassant’s group mobilized thousands of people to march on the offices of McDonalds who, at the time, weren’t using the products. In the confusion the UN set up a tribunal to investigate pig products. Restaurants promptly removed transgenic pork from their menus, fearing a backlash.
The UN tribunal, headed by retired judge Ronnie Hendricks, had to decide whether a transgenic pig containing a high percentage of human DNA was still a pig. This morning the announcement was made: “A pig is just a pig.”
Restaurants put pork back on the menu and, finally, everyone gets to taste ‘long pig’.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
2012: Christmas Alert
The team who invaded Huntingdon Life Sciences’ Norfolk farm on 15 September 2012 were expert. The bombs sent up a mile-high explosion seen 20 kilometers away. Destroyed were Huntingdon’s laboratories as well as a paddock housing a new breed of transgenic pigs.
The terrorists were tracked across the country and Christmas television viewing featured a group of young, educated youths – both male and female – being dragged off in Black Marias. These were no ordinary terrorists. Buoyed by Dr Jerry Vlasak, currently in jail for acts of eco-terrorism, these kids believed his words: “that killing scientists to stop animal research would be ‘morally justifiable.’”
Their war had already been lost. Huntingdon representative, Clive Saunders laughed at the suggestion that the attack had damaged their research. “We use BioBlocks these days to build transgenic animals. All the labs do here is monitor the breeding program. Terrorists can’t attack a distributed scientific endeavor. We have no center to attack.”
This is the first terrorist attack on British soil in almost three years. In the aftermath the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front are declared terrorist organizations and their leaders arrested.
2013 – 16: Organ Explosion
Scientists, too, have learned how to present their case to the media in emotive terms. Gone are the days when Monsanto would alienate entire nations with poorly presented press-releases.
In March of 2013, little Julia Styles – a nine-year-old victim of a critical and rare liver condition – is the recipient of an experimental new procedure. “The doctors told us she would only have another few months to live. Dialysis just doesn’t work here and we didn’t know what to do. Then the beautiful people at Genzyme came to us. Dr Harry Schwartz promised us that the transplant would work. And it did,” tears from Mrs. Gwyneth Styles as she hugs her husband.
“The operation itself was straightforward. The radical innovation is that we used a transgenic pig as the liver donor. Little Julia is the first human recipient of a xenotransplant,” says a very proud Dr Schwartz.
Julia Styles is monitored for six months to assess whether or not the organ will be rejected by her body. After a year there is a celebration at Genzyme and the party is heard around the world.
Other parts of the pig are tested and new meaning is given to the phrase: “we use every part of the pig”. Overnight the waiting list around the world for organ transplants is energized. More than 170,000 transplants are performed on critically listed patients by the end of 2016.
At the United Network for Organ Sharing the feelings are mixed. “Obviously, we’re delighted. But, well, we’re out of business. Organ shortages are a thing of the past. We’re not needed. So, bittersweet here,” says a visibly moved Dr Sue McDiarmid. “I salute all of the great scientists who made this possible. And all of the human donors who have helped us in the past.”
2018: Organ Farming
“Sure, there are only about 40,000 transplants a year and we slaughter something like 90 million pigs a year in the US alone, so you couldn’t make a living breeding pigs only for critical care. But it isn’t just critical care,” says Dr Justin Ling of Novatis Microscience.
Every year more than 130 million people require hospital care. From blood transfusions, to burns treatment, to hair transplants. Most of this isn’t critical but the lack of adequate transplant stock can result in increased expense, scarring or even painful delays. “We use cartilage, blood, corneas, ligaments, valves … you name it, we use it.”
Some 2.5 million pigs are slaughtered every year as part of hospital treatment programs. As the herds become larger and larger, the work is outsourced to traditional farmers.
“There ain’t much difference between ordinary pigs and these. In fact, these are easier. We have to be careful of the drugs we give ‘em, but they’re hardier and healthier. Hell, these are really good pigs,” says Dawson Briggs of Briggs Pigs.
Other farmers start to notice. Soon the transgenic pigs are breaking out of their purely medical breeding zones.
2019 – 2025: Transgenic Spread
The farmers may know a good thing when they see it – pigs that need few drugs, are resistant to disease and easy to care for are a blessing – but Novatis, Genzyme, UbiQitis and other firms are nervous. What will the public say when they discover that transgenic pigs are entering their diet? Worse, these pigs are almost human – at least, genetically.
A conference is called by private enterprise in July 2021. In a first for corporates, they invite civil society movements and government agencies to present on their fears. Monsanto is a key speaker at the conference presenting their experiences in years of conflict over transgenic crops.
Logically, it is hard to argue against the idea of eating transgenic pigs. It can’t be unhealthy to eat them if their organs can be so easily used in transplants. It is the social angle that worries the firms.
The conference ends with no resolution beyond agreement to label all transgenic foods so that the public can decide.
Unfortunately, no-one had invited Chinese researchers.
In 2023 Chinese researchers at the Shanghai Institute of Advanced Biotechnology unveil their own version of the transgenic pig. The Chinese government introduces a program to ensure that all farmers get to experience the ease of farming with these pigs.
By 2025 the transgenic wave has spread across South East Asia where pigs are extremely popular. And consumers in Europe vent their outrage when it is announced that transgenic pig meat is being used in fast food. McDonalds, not even using pork products to maintain their Halaal status (let alone transgenic pigs), suffers the usual indignity of pickets by protestors in France.
2027: We’re all Cannibals
The United Nations responds in confusion and sets up a tribunal. The response must be rapid. France agrees to accept the findings of the tribunal. So does China. The US is concerned.
Judge Ronnie Hendricks is selected for the job. He is also, however, the beneficiary of a pig heart. Testimony from activists is emotive, but shallow. The scientists have all the answers. One of the witnesses is 23-year-old Julia Styles, now a graduate biochemist working for Genzyme. Judge Hendricks is easy to sway.
“Transgenic pigs are just pigs,” he declares.
The law is in support, but will people continue to buy? If the queues at McDonalds are anything to go by, they will.