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Who’s the goon in Pigoons?

October 30, 2009

After a 2005 reaming by Greenpeace, food-archvillain Monsanto pulled out of a pig gene-marker-patent endeavor, selling their subsidiary company, Monsanto Choice Genetics, to Newsham Genetics LC.  The perfected porkers–or more precisely, the research about them–found a haven in Des Moines, IA. Obviously, Atwood’s novel responds to developments in molecular biology given her “compound” setting, but the pig-human genetic splice in the novel–pigoons–seem to be in dialogue with the Monsanto/Newsham g.m. pig market (or do they foretell it, since Oryx and Crake was published in 2003?).

Rooting around on Newsham website reveals some interesting discourse intersections:

1. The potential of translating/”mapping” pig bodies into data: “Leveraging genomics with proprietary molecular genetic analysis methodologies, the value of the swine genome map is really just now beginning.” (from “Genomics” in the R&D section). First, the site never says what “R&D” stands for. Any clue? Second, this comment deploys “value” in terms of economic utility, but what critique can we muster against this hogwash utilitarianism? Or maybe, what is more valuable than genetic mapping/economic profit? What critique is Atwood levelling in her novel?

2. Views and descriptions of the “product,” touted as trademarked “sires” and “maternal choices”:

His close-out data confirms that progeny have excellent carcass yield.” (CARCASS YIELD!?!? Is he already dead?)

She provides more pigs per sow per lifetime. The proof is in her profitability.” (Someone call Val Plumwood, quick).
She delivers more pigs born alive and more weaned pigs per sow per year. Delivers high productivity and even higher returns.” (Pregnancy=profit)
Created through the power of genomics.”  (from the “Product” subsection of their website)

3. Related to our ongoing analysis of race/gender/class in environmental texts is the absence of racial (genetic?) diversity in the Newsham staff. On the one hand, we might expect a white cast of characters from Iowa, but on the other hand, what’s at stake  when white people have access or control over genetic technologies? Where is race in Oryx and Crake?

P.S. A fascinating freakish pig-ad from 1562.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. kmckimps permalink
    October 31, 2009 12:46 am

    Neat. Good work digging all this up.

    I’m also reminded of the reliance we already have on pigs for medical supplies. For a lkong while pig insulin was type of choice for diabetics. Only recently has the U.S. moved away from this…but many diabetics still purchase their pig insulin from Canada.

    We use animals for a substitute source and then grow reliant.

    So far as race I found it hard to distinguish between race and economic/academic strata. This is not to say that race was the cause of the difference, but that identity seemed almost solely reliant on percieved education/economy, which was a bit strange.

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