TECHNOLOGY, FOOD, ANIMAL RIGHTS, HEALTH:
I Scream Clone
Cloning won’t mean cute new little friends like these, what it means is the FDA approves farm animals for cloning.
In 1952 a special tadpole was born. It was the first animal ever cloned. After that breakthrough, scientists spent many years and many millions of dollars on unsuccessful cloning attempts. Then, in 1997, it was ‘Hello, Dolly,’ when this sheep became the first successfully cloned mammal. Since Dolly’s celebrated birth, scientists have cloned many different animals including goats, cows, horses, pigs, rabbits and mice. A guar (an exotic ox native to India) named Noah was the first endangered animal to be cloned, but unfortunately he lived only 48 hours.
There’s also been a big push to clone our beloved pets, for love and profit. The cat came first, then a dog. But it wasn’t easy and as it turns out, the cloning of pets wasn’t as profitable a business as some had hoped. Now the biotechnology industry has turned much of its attention to cloning barn yard animals for future human consumption.
The Food and Drug Administration has released an 800-page report which concluded that the milk and meat from cloned cattle, pigs and goats and their offspring is as safe to eat as the food we currently consume. They also added that they won’t recommend special labels for food from a cloned source, because the food from cloned animals is “virtually indistinguishable” from conventional food.
The motivation behind cloning farm animals is that they’ll have superior milk production and carcass traits. It’s even possible that technology will develop enough to clone out negative gene traits that lead to creepy things like mad cow disease.The current cloning procedure is called SCNT, somatic cell nuclear transfer. The SCNT process involves taking a living cell from an adult animal and inserting the nucleus from the cell into an unfertilized egg that has had its own nucleus removed. Presto, you have a baby that was grown inside the womb of a surrogate mother and, unlike all the rest of the animals on this planet, has only one genetic parent.
Right now, cloning to produce food is only going to be done at the very top strata of the breading pyramid, with DNA from animals that are worth 1 and 2 million bucks. The animals to be cloned are the ones that fetch the top prices for their meat, milk and bacon. Right now it costs upwards of $16,000 to produce a clone. Financial reality tells us we won’t actually be eating a clone, rather, it’s the prodigy and future lines of a cloned animal that will make their way onto our dinner plates and into pet food bowels. With this FDA nod, we could begin seeing food from cloned sources in less than 5 years.
In typical FDA fashion, the report is based on studying less than 100 cloned food animals and none of the animals have been studied over the long run. “Futuraland 2020,” a Maryland dairy, was the first farm in America to have cloned cows. Owner Greg Wiles reported to the FDA that two of his clones were suffering from unexplained health problems and claims the agency refused to investigate the matter. Wiles was widely quoted as saying he was “paddled around like a tennis ball from agency to agency.”
The history of cloning is akin to a scientific freak show. What the FDA report didn’t focus on is that cloning poses a serious health risk — if you’re the animal being cloned. While the FDA report mentions some health threats to the new born animals and their surrogate mommies, they refrain from discussing the ethical issues on a broader level.
Animals feel pain and experience fear. This is a scientific fact, not just some crunchy-granola philosophy. Attempts at cloning animals haven’t gone very well. “There are a hell of a lot of fetal and neonatal deaths along the way” says Gerald Schatten head of the lab at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center which was attempting to clone monkeys.
In large animals like cows and sheep, scientists found that about half of all cloned embryos that developed into fetuses have dangerous abnormalities and defects in their lungs, hearts and other organs; others have weak immune systems and high rates of tumor growth. Many of these clones die before birth, others kick the bucket weeks or months after being born. Older clones often die early and have unpredictable or unexplainable deaths.
Essentially, cloning has been one big, decades-long experiment on animals. These experiments have resulted in more deformed animals and deaths than other reproductive technology. Of 13 calves cloned by James Robl at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, four fetuses aborted in the last trimester, one calf died at birth, and two more died shortly after birth. Some of Robl’s surrogate-mother cows also died. Autopsies of the cows implanted with clone babies showed livers that were filled with fat.
Dairy farmers and ranchers, the people that actually produce our meat and milk, are not jumping on the cloning gravy train. Cloning is not what they want. Cloning is a business driven by a different industry – the biotechnology firms. In fact many people believe the FDA report was fact-tracked for the good of a few cloning companies. ViaGen is the company that’s expected to benefit the most from the FDA’s decision to give cloned meat the all-clear. ViaGen from surprise, surprise, our Presidents home state is funded by billionaire John Sterling, founder of the dubious on-line degree program at the University of Phoenix.
Dairy farmers, ranchers and others who are actually in the food industry are expressing concerns about consumer reaction to cloned meat and dairy foods. The head of the International Dairy Foods Assoc. (IDFA), Connie Tipton, says that “there is currently no consumer benefit in milk from cloned cows.” IDFA and food makers Nestle and Kraft Foods, currently oppose allowing products from cloned animals into our food supply. Already some manufacturers are considering placing a clone-free sticker on their products.
Even if you don’t give a rat’s ass about animal welfare think about this: Broad-based genetic diversity is the biological basis of world food security. A wide range of plants and animals is necessary to prevent environmental stress and to preserve the resilience of our eco and food systems. Remember the potato famine? In four short years, the fungus phytophthora destroyed the principal food source for the entire Irish nation. Using the off-spring of clones to produce our food is a dangerous step towards biological conformity of our food and unknown, unforeseen disasters of the future.