Written by Raoul
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Topics: Texas, Cows

Wednesday, 8 December 2004

image for Texas Geneticist Develops Miniature Cows

BEAUMONT, Texas - Research published in this month's Journal of Agricultural Bioengineering suggests that some day tiny beef cattle may roam the ranches of Texas.

University of Beaumont geneticist Jeff Lee and his colleagues have been working hard to engineer the perfect protein source. They are combining the genetic material of Angus beef with that of laboratory mice to produce tiny beef cattle.

At the grocery store this technology would result in a 75% reduction in the cost of beef. Dubbed "spamsters", these diminutive cattle would be genetically 94% Angus beef, so the meat would look and would taste like the original.

Why make smaller cows? It's all a matter of economics:

The average beef cow weighs between 1,000 and 1,300 pounds, and is ready for market in 14 to 16 months. That's a long time for ranchers to tie up valuable capital. In contrast, mice reach full maturity in 5-7 weeks. More importantly, it takes 20 pounds of feed to produce a single pound of beef. Comparatively, mice gain a thrifty 1-pound for each 6 pounds of feed. The new hybrid cattle would share the more efficient metabolism of their mouse relations.

Another drawback of cattle ranching is that it takes vast tracts of land. By growing smaller animals, cattle operations could be moved to more compact facilities. Future cattle ranches would look more like chicken farms. Large warehouse sized production facilities could produce tons of beef at a fraction of the cost of a traditional ranch.

Hybrid beef production will have a significantly lower environmental impact than traditional ranching. Scientists estimate that cows require a whopping 2,500 gallons of water for each pound of meat. Hybrid cattle should require substantially less resources.

Researchers expect that consumers may be slow to accept beef from such non-traditional sources. Worldwide there is a great deal of debate as to the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods. Despite these initial reactions, they are confident that consumers will be swayed by the lower cost and high quality of the product.

"Of course we won't be selling 1oz steaks," says Dr. Lee. "This beef would only be suitable for hamburger and sausage.

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