GENEWATCH
 
IN THE BULLPEN: LIVESTOCK CLONING
By Jaydee Hanson
 

On February 22, 1997, a team of Scottish scientists announced that the world's first cloned mammal, a sheep cloned from an adult cell, had been born the previous July.1 The scientists cloned a ewe by inserting DNA from a single sheep cell into an egg and implanted it in a surrogate mother. Actually, cloned embryos were placed in 277 surrogate ewes and the sheep, called Dolly, was the only success. Dolly was cloned as a way to help copy sheep that had been genetically engineered to produce human proteins in their milk or blood. In effect, cloning was intended to help make pharmaceutical drugs.

By 2006, it was clear that a number of cattle, pig, and goat breeders were planning to introduce cloned animals and their offspring into the food market. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration drafted a risk assessment on the use of clones for food in 2006 and eventually approved their use for food in 2008. However, the FDA risk assessment relied on minimal research for their approval of the meat and milk of clones for food.2 The FDA assessment found no peer-reviewed studies on meat from cloned cows or on milk or meat from their offspring. No peer-reviewed studies were found on meat and milk from cloned goats or their offspring either, nor for pigs. The three peer reviewed studies on milk from cloned cows showed marked differences in milk from clones that should have prompted further research. Nonetheless, based on submissions of data from two cloning companies, the FDA approved food and milk from cloned cattle, pigs, and goats as safe for human consumption. Ironically, while the first mammal cloned was a sheep, the FDA recommended against approving meat or milk from sheep due to lack of data.

After the approval of meat and milk from cloned cattle, goats, and pigs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture asked cloners to voluntarily keep such products off the market. The U.S. Congress requested a study of the economic effects of cloning on livestock producers, but USDA has yet to release the report. Our research at the Center for Food Safety has found that at least six U.S. sellers of bull semen for the artificial insemination of cattle are advertising that they have cloned bull semen for sale. While there is no tracking of the number of cloned bull semen straws that have been sold, we assume that a small portion of the cattle sold in the U.S. are the offspring of clones. While cloning is sold as a way to improve cattle and pig genetics, most of the U.S. pedigrees now require the cloning status of an animal to be listed in its pedigree. The three breed associations with the most cloned animals-Angus, Hereford, and Texas Longhorn-all require cloning status to be listed in the pedigree. In Europe and Canada, most breeding associations simply prohibit the listing of a cloned animal in the pedigree of the breed.3

Who is doing the cloning?

Most of the cloned animals produced in or for the U.S. market are cloned by two companies: Viagen, a Texas company owned by billionaire John Sperling,4 and Cyagra, formerly a U.S. company but now owned by Argentina's richest man, Gregorio Perez Companc.5 Viagen claims that it has produced a total of 1,000 clones, mostly cows but also racing horses and pigs. Japanese company Kirin Pharmaceuticals now owns another U.S. cloning and animal genetic engineering company, Hematech. Its scientific officer, James Robl, told me that while the company has an application before the FDA for approval of its cloned and genetically engineered "mad cow" resistant cow, it plans to use that animal only to produce pharmaceutical drugs, not for food. The next generation of clones could come from wealthy Chinese corporations. The Beijing Genome Institute, a powerhouse in DNA sequencing, has set up a pig cloning company that is working on improving the efficiency of the cloning process.6

Regulating animal cloning for food

Only the United States has explicitly approved animal clones for food. The European Union has had a significant discussion about whether food from clones and their offspring should be approved. The Agriculture Ministers of most EU countries have called for approving meat and milk from clones and their offspring.7 The European Parliament, on the other hand, has called for an outreach ban of clones and their offspring in food and forced a stop to efforts by the European Commission to approve clones for food. The Health and Consumers agency of the European Commission conducted a public comment period last fall and is expected to issue a report soon.8 That report will likely engender another international discussion of animal cloning for food.

Conclusion

Comparatively few cloned animals or their offspring have entered the U.S. or European Union markets. It is likely that imports of meat from Argentina or China will be the source of cloned meat products in the future. The U.S. should take steps to be able to track clones and their offspring. At the very least, the National Organic Program should implement the 2007 recommendation of the National Organic Standard Board that clones and their offspring should be excluded from USDA certified organic products, so that consumers who want to avoid clones and their offspring in meat and milk products would have a viable option.

 

Jaydee Hanson is Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Food Safety.

 

ENDNOTES

1. John Gurdon, won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work developing the techniques now used for cloning for his work in frogs in 1962. The Scottish team's achievement was figuring out how to use this technique, previously successful only in amphibians and fish, in mammals.

2. See Center For Food Safety, "Not Ready for Prime Time: FDA's Flawed Approach to Assessing the Safety of Food from Animal Clones," March 2007, available at: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/pubs/FINAL_FORMATTEDprime%20time.pdf

3. See Jaydee Hanson, Comments to the US Department of Agriculture, National Organic Program on tracking animal clones using pedigrees, September 20, 2011, pgs. 253-259. Available at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5095829

4. See Melissa Del Bosque, Clone on the Range, Texas Observer, September 14, 2011 available at: http://www.texasobserver.org/clone-on-the-range-2/

5. See Daniel Boffey, "El Cardinal, the Opus Dei devotee behind cloning firm", The Daily Mail, UK, August 20, 2010 available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1301215/Wisconsins-king-copy-cattle-Farmer-sold-cloned-cow-embryos-Britain-claims-fell-sales-patter-promising-prize-animal-live-ever.html#ixzz2LqRAcC3B

6. See BGI Ark Biotechnology Co. LTD Shenzen (BAB) http://www.bab-genomics.com/list.aspx?catid=168 and Christine Larson, Inside China's Genome Factory, MIT Technology Review, Feb. 11, 2013 available at http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/511051/inside-chinas-genome-factory/

7. See http://www.dw.de/eu-ministers-approve-sale-of-food-from-cloned-animals-offspring/a-4414990

8. See Director General, SANCO, "Measures on animal cloning for food production in the EU" available at http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/health_consumer/dgs_consultations/animal_cloning_consultation_en.htm

 

 
 
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