Researchers have announced that they have successfully implanted human genes into one of the most delicious of all farm animals, the lowly pig.
The hope is that through genetic engineering, hogs will one day be the source of an unlimited supply of organs for human transplantation. This is a huge departure from the current use for that particular animal.
As you might imagine, this development raises some tough ethical questions. For instance, how human does an animal have to be before you can claim it as a dependent for income tax purposes? And, am I the only one to feel good about the fact that I could be more closely related to Porky Pig than to Howard Stern?
The truth is that I have long considered pigs to be the most human of all farm animals. This is because of Blackie, my very first 4-H project.
I met Blackie when he was only a few hours old. I had joined 4-H some months earlier and needed an animal for a project, as arts and crafts were not my thing. Dad said I could choose a piglet from our spring litters and that when weaning time came, he would give my pig a separate pen. Owning a real, live pig made me feel like a 9-year-old pork baron.
I did my best to meet Blackie's every need. I carried feed and water, bedded his pen and gave him table scraps. It would be fair to say that I was the Martha Stewart of swine husbandry.
I had decided to name him Blackie since all the best pig names, such as Wilbur, were taken. Dad, noting that our freezer was running low, suggested a moniker like Tenderloin or BLT. I ignored these disquieting comments.
Yet Dad's words carried an inescapable truth: Blackie was a barrow and thus had but one purpose in life, namely, to land on a dinner plate. I resolved to find some way to save Blackie from this terrible fate. If only he had a spider pal who could write.
One day, while I was bathing Blackie, I noticed something peculiar. Whenever I passed my brush over a certain spot on his belly, he would break into a piggy grin. If I kept it up long enough, he would begin to sway and would eventually plop over on his side to allow unfettered access to his sweet spot. I saw a ray of hope for Blackie's salvation.
By the time achievement days arrived, Blackie was a porcine behemoth. He waddled more than walked and was approximately the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
When some of my fellow 4-H club members stopped by Blackie's pen, I decided to display his talent. My brush found his sweet spot and Blackie broke into his dopey grin.
The other boys were amazed. "Wow," one said. "He looks like Uncle Bob after he's had a few."
"Yeah," said another boy. "Or like my brother when he reads a girlie magazine."
One of the older boys spoke up. "You're all wrong. He looks just like that duded-up piano player feller. You know, um, Liver something. Liver Archie. Yeah. He's even got the same slick black hair." The boys all nodded in agreement.
Armed with this new name, I hoped to convince some adult that Liver Archie had unique qualities that rendered him inedible.
During the pig show the next morning, I followed Blackie around the show ring. I kept a close eye on the judge, who was also a buyer for a local meat packer. When the judge paused to size up my hog, I ran my brush over Blackie's belly and he broke into his dopey grin.
The judge was taken aback. "What's the matter with your hog?"
"Nothing, sir," I said. "His name is Liver Archie and he does that all the time."
"Liver Archie? That sounds a lot like Liberace. Can he play the piano?"
"I bet he could if he got the chance. With a smile like that, just think of all the money he might be worth."
"Tell you what, kid. He's totally overweight, so I'm going to give him a red ribbon. But, find me after the show and we'll see if we can make a deal."
I did as was told and accepted the judge's generous offer for Blackie. I never did see Liver Archie on Hit Parade or any such show, but hope he at least got a piano lesson or two before he went to that big hog wallow in the sky.
So, before you turn your nose up at interspecies genetic tinkering, bear this in mind: any creature who can smile is already pretty much human.
Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry's great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: