The Belgian Blues

Marjorie Levine

Pictured above and here is the Belgian Blue Bull It came about naturally in the 1800s, but modern technology has been able to determine that a gene mutation preventing a control of muscle growth results in a “double-muscled” cow.  Additionally, their lean meat has been ranked amongst the best Angus being produced in terms of quality. This mutation is a farmer’s fantasy because the Blue yields higher beef quality at a comparable price without a drop in quality. Some of the statistics that farmers find desirable can be found here.

Although it looks like a superhero-like cow, the Blue lives a miserable life from the minute it is brought into this earth. The only way for a Belgian Blue to bear her calves is by Cesarean, her birth canal simply cannot freely deliver a calf on its own, and lack of intervention causes the potential for mortal danger to both cow and offspring.  In addition, the extra size of a Belgian Blue fetus causes an underdevelopment of its vital organs, and respiratory and cardiac issues as calves result. As adults, these cows are not any stronger than an average cow; much of their extra muscle is non-functional. Instead, they suffer from crippling joint and bone problems also brought on by a lack of sufficient space in utero. Blues have trouble walking, and in terms of mating, the bulls must have semen harvested and the females have artificial insemination. Some supporters of banning the farming of the Blues believe that it is unethical to breed animals that put the animal and the offspring in danger at every birth. The calves have a number of birth defects including tongue swelling so that they cannot feed from the mother, hardening of the arteries causing problems to stand upright and cardio-respiratory problems which may lead to premature death. These problems lead to calves and the mother cows to have constant operations, causing discomfort and pain.  Ban supporters believe that it is not ethical to breed an animal that we keep in continual pain and suffering.

Sweden had a longstanding ban on the use/abuse of this cow’s genetic mutation, and I agree with their original sentiment. Double muscling is not a miracle for cows, as it is for the farmers. It is a genetic defect that harms the animals. However, that ban was overturned by a Swedish farmer and subsequent efforts have not stopped meat from Belgian blue-inseminated cattle from reaching the market. In this case, the Swedish farmer was found to have inseminated his cows with semen from a Belgian Blue bull without authorization. The authorization mandates informing the distributor of the dangers of breeding the calves and the diseases that come with it. However, an EU law that stated that farmers could not practice breeding procedures that cause lasting harm preempted the Swedish law. The government found that a C-section is not considered lasting harm under the law and that any genetic “defects” are just characteristics of the breed. The court has said that the Blue has created their own genes and since it is natural, humans can exploit it, despite the consequences to the animal. To animal rights supporters, the repeal of the ban remains an injustice in which an entire breed’s welfare is in jeopardy in exchange for low cost, high yield beef for consumption. Within the giant, striated, channeled body of the Belgian Blue is a sick, tired, defenseless animal being suffocated and trapped within its own body.

3 Responses

  1. “It came about naturally in the 1800s”

    did it? surely the breed was already the result of human domestication – and so if we define ‘natural’ in such terms – this statement and the ruling are both a mistake. selective breeding is full of such examples as this.

  2. how many push-ups can he do?

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