July 13, 2017

The Science Nonfiction of Okja

This weekend I watched Netflix’s newly released movie, Okja.  It is the story of a young girl (Mija) and her relationship with Okja, a “super pig” created by the multinational Mirando Corporation. Mirando developed Okja (along with a number of other super pigs) in an effort to create an animal that could feed more people with a smaller environmental impact. They sent 26 super pigs to be raised by farmers around the world and returned ten years later to choose the best example of a super pig. When representatives from Mirando Corp. arrive in South Korea to name Okja the winner of the contest and take her to New York City for the unveiling of the super pigs to the world, Mija embarks on a journey to bring Okja home. There is enough fodder in Okja for five posts. To name just a few I could write about the human / animal bond, the co-opting of activists’ language by corporations for profit, or the morality of tactics sometimes used by animal rights activists. However, as Farmaste is financially preparing to shoulder the often-high healthcare costs of farmed animals, I thought it was important to focus on the central theme of the film – the modification of animals to increase their productivity.

Photo Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals 

While the idea of a super pig such as Okja seems fantastical, the modification of animals to increase their productivity or meat yield is nothing new to the agricultural industry. Farmers have already taken some steps towards creating a super pig – selective breeding has led to longer pigs with an increased number of vertebrae in their spines. This modification has resulted in more saleable meat per animal.  Such modifications are not limited to pigs. Egg laying hens have been bred to produce between 250 and 300 eggs per year, while wild hens only lay 10-15 eggs per year. Farmed turkeys have been bred to grow so large that they have lost their ability to fly. In addition, all turkey reproduction has to take place via artificial insemination because male turkeys are now so large that they are physically unable to complete the mating process. In 1925, dairy cows in the US produced an average of 4,200 pounds of milk per year; by 2007, the average yearly milk yield per cow had increased to 20,260 pounds.

Photo Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals 

At Farmaste, these modifications are at the front of our minds as we prepare to rescue more animals. Not surprisingly, the changes made to farmed animals to increase their profitability almost universally lead to health problems and challenges to the animals’ quality of life.  Pigs and turkeys regularly suffer from arthritis and other mobility problems at early ages due to their increased size. Laying hens are prone to reproductive cancers, prolapsed uteruses, and osteoporosis due to their increased egg production. Dairy cows are prone to stomach ulcers, metabolic disease, mastitis, and calcium deficiencies. Due to these modifications and the conditions under which farmed animals typically live prior to coming to a sanctuary, their health problems begin much earlier and are often costlier than those of companion animals.

Photo Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals 

When Farmaste rescues an animal, we promise to provide them with high quality vet care that sustains their quality of life for as long as possible. We need to be confident that we will financially able to keep that promise before accepting any new resident. Cows can live to be over 20 years old at sanctuaries – it is long term commitment. Your financial contributions give us that confidence and allow us to offer sanctuary to a greater number of these amazing beings. If you have an Okja (an animal that you would go across the world to save), are bothered by the impact of industry modifications on farmed animals’ quality of life, or simply want to give more farmed animals the lives that they deserve, please consider a donation.

Namaste.