The Belgian Blue: No, it’s not a GMO

August 8th, 2013
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If you have never seen a Belgian Blue, its appearance may startle you.   It’s a breed of cattle which is known for being extremely muscular, with some bulls taking the trait to the extreme.  The reason for this extreme muscle development is a mutation in one of the breed’s genes which products what is known as double-muscling.   The result is an increase in the number of muscle fibers that develop.   This, combined with additional selective breeding has resulted in an animal with an unusually lean and muscular build.

The mutation has been documented as far back as the early 1800′s, but the modern Belgian Blue is the result of intensive selective breeding and inbreeding programs in the 1950′s.   The result is a breed of cattle which has a universal tendency toward double-muscling and hence the unusual appearance.

The Blue is prized for its extremely high yield of lean meat.  However, the economics of the breed are debatable, as there are a number of complications to raising and keeping the breed.  For one, most births are by c-section, as the Blue has difficulty birthing calves naturally.   The breed requires more concentrated protein-rich feed and does not do well in all environments.   For this reason, the Bengian Blue is not an especially popular breed of cattle, and thus many people are not familiar with them.

It seems that recently the anti-genetic engineering crowd has discovered the Belgian Blue and decided that it would make a great image to promote the evils of science gone too far…

This site, for example, touts the Belgian Blue as “just one example of the limits of Genetically Modified Organisms.”

While others have used pictures of this abnormally muscular cow to describe “GMO Frankencows.” Some sites to mention that the Belgian Blue is the result of a natural mutation, while still calling them GMO’s.
Others label it as “Genetic Modification Gone Wrong.”

Of course, the problem with these claims is that the Belgian Blue is NOT a genetically engineered organism and is only genetically modified through selection ( whether it is natural or artificial) and mutation – the same way all organisms came into existence.

In fact, there are no genetically modified cows currently on the market. Research has been done on genetically modified cows. Some of the reasons for this include creating dairy cows that hypoallergenic milk or which can produce milk naturally fortified in necessary nutrients that normal milk lacks. Such GMO cows could even product milk similar to human breast milk, making them an ideal source of formula for adopted infants or other circumstances where alternatives to breast milk are required. Genetic engineering has also been considered to produce cattle with tastier or leaner meat, disease resistance or greater meat yields.

But, at present, these GMO cattle have not yet reached the dinner table and are not being raised by farmers, at least outside a few research organizations. Any claims to the contrary and simply false.


This entry was posted on Thursday, August 8th, 2013 at 4:52 pm and is filed under Bad Science. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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16 Responses to “The Belgian Blue: No, it’s not a GMO”

  1. 1
    Chris Says:

    All Cattle are genetically engineered though centuries of trait selection. The “base cow” was probably the Auroch (now extinct), but there is a lot of disagreement about that. In any case the “cow” in nature did not exist, just like the dog and the cat. For thousands of years Man has been remaking the world around us and G.E. is just a quicker and cheaper way to do that. I for one like Cats and Dogs and Mike products. I choose not to eat meat, but I know a lot of people do and G.E. can provide more healthier meat for those who choose to do so.


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  2. 2
    Sean McKinon Says:

    I believe there are people out there who truly would like to see a large portion of the human race die off and society return to a pre industrial revolution state. These people do not want to see ANY science or technology that improves the lives of the human race.


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  3. 3
    DV82XL Says:

    I dislike the term ‘genetically modified organism’ (GMO) because it lacks a hard definition as to just what sort of modifications of an organisms genetic material should be encompassed by the phrase. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety uses the term ‘living modified organism’ (LMO) which is defined as any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology and then goes on to define ‘modern biotechnology’ to mean the application of techniques, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers. I have been led to understand this was to avoid the very issues that novel organisms created by selecting for beneficial mutations, propagation of graft chimeras, and artificial interspecific hybridization raise. Without this strict technical legal term being defined one could argue that any living example of artificial breeding was a product of some type of genetic engineering and was thus a GMO.


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  4. 4
    Brian-M Says:

            Chris said:

    All Cattle are genetically engineered though centuries of trait selection.

    I disagree on the grounds that there’s no engineering involved.

    Perhaps we could come up with a new term for species like the Belgian Blue, domestic dogs and racing pigeons?

    I suggest we could call them Selectively Modified Organisms (SMOs). In other words, organisms modified by artificial selection.


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  5. 5
    TomT Says:

    Ah yes the lovely fuzzy term “Genetically Modified Organism”. There being no solid definition of that term people love to misuse it.

    In this case if you stretch the term out of shape to include organisms created by man directed breeding then yes I suppose they are accurate. But that isn’t what people think of as a genetically modified organism so it is a deliberate attempt to misuse language to fool people. I’m glad your calling them on this.


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  6. 6
    BMS Says:

    Latest quote overheard from the Belgian Blue: “No, I’m not GMO, I’m GOV. In 2014, I plan to run for governor of California. Hear me now and believe me later, but I will totally destroy that flabby girly-man moonbeam guy.”


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  7. 7
    drbuzz0 Says:

    I think the term “Genetically Modified Organism” is generally understood to be some kind of organism which has had a gene changed or inserted intentionally by artificial means in a laboratory.

    Of course, genes change all the time and selective breeding is nothing new.


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  8. 8
    DV82XL Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    I think the term “Genetically Modified Organism” is generally understood to be some kind of organism which has had a gene changed or inserted intentionally by artificial means in a laboratory.

    And for most people that is true but as we have seen here many times in the past, controlling definitions is a big part of anti-science propaganda campaigns and they often try to exploit the difference between what is generally understood and what might be technically correct to leverage their position. The technique is one of the purer forms of equivocation.


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  9. 9
    NLMR Says:

    Thank you for this article. I took the liberty to use it against “Disinformation”, and to translate it in French in the process : http://www.scoop.it/t/desinformation


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  10. 10
    Stenny Says:

            Chris said:

    All Cattle are genetically engineered though centuries of trait selection. The “base cow” was probably the Auroch (now extinct), but there is a lot of disagreement about that. In any case the “cow” in nature did not exist, just like the dog and the cat. For thousands of years Man has been remaking the world around us and G.E. is just a quicker and cheaper way to do that. I for one like Cats and Dogs and Mike products. I choose not to eat meat, but I know a lot of people do and G.E. can provide more healthier meat for those who choose to do so.

    well said sir


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  11. 11
    Mary Says:

    Sigh. This zombie myth is back again. And I figured I’d bring the PubMed reference in case anyone else needs it:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9356471


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  12. 12
    Ed Rybicki Says:

    Sigh…the simple fact of the matter is that “selective breeding” has resulted in FAR greater genetic changes than have ever been attempted by gene insertion – and therefore it more than qualifies as genetic modification, and a source of GMOs.
    Seriously: check out any chihuahua, and realise that it came from wolf ancestors. Look at any Persian cat, and realise it’s a stunted, malformed, long-haired derivative of an African wildcat.
    For that matter, look at modern maize, wheat or rice, and realise that their ancestors are almost unrecognisable – and that they are all hybrids and have had genome duplications or triplications, and all sorts of genetic rearrangements that are simply not permitted in modern GMOs.


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  13. 13
    DV82XL Says:

            Ed Rybicki said:

    Sigh…the simple fact of the matter is that “selective breeding” has resulted in FAR greater genetic changes than have ever been attempted by gene insertion – and therefore it more than qualifies as genetic modification, and a source of GMOs…

    This is very true and thus in the end the debate is really over technique. As the anthropologist Glenn Davis Stone has pointed out that each side of the debate has agreed to talk about GMOs as if “GMOs” are a single entity up for approval or rejection and this is ludicrous on its face. In fact the term has become more of a rhetorical construct than anything else and is being used as a proxy for expressing concern over fears, based on uncertainties and gaps in understanding where the focus is on intention and agency, rather than causal complexity.

    Back in the Sixties the catch phrase was: “Stop the World – I Want to Get Off” (misappropriated from a musical by the same name) to underline the fear that the world was changing too fast for the person uttering it to cope, and this is basically what most of the angst over GMO is rooted in.


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  14. 14
    threenorns Says:

            Chris said:

    All Cattle are genetically engineered though centuries of trait selection. The “base cow” was probably the Auroch (now extinct), but there is a lot of disagreement about that. In any case the “cow” in nature did not exist, just like the dog and the cat. For thousands of years Man has been remaking the world around us and G.E. is just a quicker and cheaper way to do that. I for one like Cats and Dogs and Mike products. I choose not to eat meat, but I know a lot of people do and G.E. can provide more healthier meat for those who choose to do so.

    that’s why i get so pissed off at bull**** groups like PETA – “return them to their natural habitat” – please, someone explain to me the natural habitat of a cow or a chicken!

    (of course, PETA would rather they were all slaughtered)


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  15. 15
    keith Says:

    wouldn’t the statement “no GE cows exist be contradicted by the fact that cattle have been cloned? reproductive cloning is a form of genetic engineering no? i know that some breeders are cloning bulls for commercial purposes.


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  16. 16
    DV82XL Says:

            keith said:

    wouldn’t the statement “no GE cows exist be contradicted by the fact that cattle have been cloned? reproductive cloning is a form of genetic engineering no? i know that some breeders are cloning bulls for commercial purposes.

    Two years ago New Zealand researchers genetically engineered a cow to produce milk free of the protein that causes allergies in children however these are not yet available to the market.


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