Taking a long-awaited stand in an emotionally fraught food fight, the Food and Drug Administration yesterday released a 678-page analysis concluding that milk and meat from cloned animals pose no unique risks to consumers.
The decision, subject to change after a period of public comment, stops short of approving the sale of food from clones and leaves in place for now a long-standing government request that farmers keep their clones off the market.
To start with let me say I agree with the FDA on this one. If you study how cloning is done, once you get the cell division going in the egg, the processes are no different than what we are used to in normal reproduction so the meat and milk from cloned animals would be indistinguishable from meat and milk from non-cloned animals. I know, some people will yell and scream at me at this point but it's the truth. Sometimes we have to deal with the truth whether we like it or not. There is no underlying genetic manipulation at this point with a clone so the meat is fine. There is a lot bigger question here if you ask me than whether the meat is safe to eat or not. That question is, are we wise to use cloning in our agricultural system? Will it help or hurt our animals that are entrusted to us to care for? These are the questions that should be asked, not if the meat is safe or not, I don't see that as a factor.
So, I am sure you are asking, what does he mean about the wisdom of using clones in our agricultural system? Simple, there is no such thing as the perfect animal that meets all requirements. If we find a genetically superior cow that raises large calves for a rancher to sell, what are the trade offs for this cow to be able to perform this function? The cow might not be healthy over a long term basis, or might not breed back reliably, or the calf might not grow later in life well, or something else. There are always tradeoffs in these things and they might not always be known right off the bat.
An example of what I'm talking about can be gleaned from Liz's comment on my post about Scamper being cloned. She pointed out that using AI techniques a dangerous and sometimes fatal condition known as HYPP was spread through the Quarter Horse community all through one sire that everybody thought at the time was a genetically superior creature. Is there a possibility the same thing could happen with a clone? There definitely is that possibility. Picking a genetically superior creature doesn't mean the critter isn't with out it's faults, whether they are know or unknown at the time. With the Impressive line and HYPP it was a fault that wasn't known and got spread through the gene pool to the detriment of the Quarter Horse community and is still causing problems. The same thing could happen with cloning and it could happen in an accelerated manner if cloning were to become very widespread.
I can give another less documented, more personal example of what I am talking about. When I got out of the Navy, my father was using all bulls from one particular breeder. They were not cheap bulls and it was a breeder with a very good reputation and raised very nice bulls. Dad was using these particular bulls to add length and muscle to the cattle at the time and they were doing this very well. The trade off? It turned out they also had what I call pin-asses. They threw cows that had such a small pelvic area we started having trouble with the cows calving. I finally got us away from these bulls and after awhile the problem went away. It got so bad before it turned around that I was pulling almost 100% of the calves off of our two-year old heifers because the heifers had such pin-asses bred into them. Now I pull very few calves and the problem has gone away. This is what I mean though by trade offs though. You push certain traits and there is a good chance some other trait will suffer and it might not be readily noticed at the time or the short comings might be overlooked because of the trait being pushed.
Holstein cows in the dairy industry are suffering from the trait being overlooked in my opinion. They have used breeding techniques like AI to push so hard for milk production that Holsteins now are not as healthy or hardy as they were at one time. The dairy industry has decided that milk production is more important than other considerations and have breed their cattle that way. Since I'm not in the dairy industry my viewpoint on this might be wrong but that is the way it seems to me. Overall Holsteins are not as healthy or hardy as they used to be. This has been done on purpose, but is it appropriate that we have done this and can accelerating the process with cloning cause this and other problems in our domesticated animals?
Mankind has domesticated the animals we are talking about for over 2000 years now and it is our ethical responsibility to take care of them properly. Is cloning these animals instead of using natural reproduction an ethical way to take care of these animals that we are responsible for? Is pushing one genetic characteristic at the expense of other characteristics, the breed they belong to or the whole genus of the animal the way we should be taking care of our responsibility? Awful tough question to answer if you ask me. We've changed the animals over time with selective breeding but with reproduction technologies available today we are accelerating the changes we are making to our animals faster than ever and there is no guarantee that what we are doing won't have bad consequences in the long run. By our reliance on just certain breeds for production agriculture there are even domesticated animal breeds going extinct and we are losing valuable genetic diversity in our animals every day.
By cloning we are not only in danger of losing breeds, but losing all the diversity in a breed for one animal that the experts believe to be superior. What happens to our genetic diversity when all the animals in one "breed" are all just one animal? We will then have no diversity and no fall back if there is a problem with the animal. It will also speed the extinction of the genetic diversity available in all the breeds that are now in the world that are endangered. Cloning may be a valuable tool for agriculture like they claim since it will allow us to use superior genetics to increase the production of our herds, but I don't think so. I think it is an abrogation of our responsibility for the ethical care of the animals we are entrusted with and just another example of man's belief that he knows better than God/Mother Nature. The meat of cloned animals might be indistinguishable from the meat of non-cloned animals but that doesn't mean that this is the road we need to go down. There are too many potholes in this road and is not the way mankind needs to take his animals. This road will just be too rough on them and us.
Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind. Albert Schweitzer