McClones

July 2011

Photo © Greenpeace / Christian Lehsten
Cloning animals isn't strictly a GM-food issue. However, it does involve removing DNA from its native environment and putting into a new one, with all the same, inevitable, disruption of genomic coherence and compromised health (see Nuclear Transplant (Cloning) below). There's also no doubt that the major incentive for cloning animals is that the procedure enables genetic transformation.



NUCLEAR TRANSPLANT (CLONING)

The current method of cloning involves transplanting the nucleus of a cell from an adult or from a developing embryo into a mature egg that has had its nucleus removed. The reconstituted eggs are activated to develop, and the resultant embryos are implanted into surrogate mothers.

During cloning of non-GM animals, the survival rate is, at most, 10 per cent of the embryos selected for implantation (in terms of the total embryos prepared, this falls to 1 per cent). Genetic modification will reduce this 'success' rate much further.

After implantation, there is a significant incidence of spontaneous abortion and hydrops (the surrogate mother's uterus fills up with water, and the animal has to be put down). In New Zealand, where cloning has been researched for some years, the Animal Ethics Committee reported 16 foetuses or calves from mid-gestation onwards spontaneously aborted or died in the neonatal period in 2010. Another 10 foetuses or calves had to be euthanized along with 14 cows.



Sadly, despite the decision of the Scottish pioneer of cloning to abandon the technology after his experience with his first cloned creation, Dolly the sheep, Scottish scientists are still trying to lead the world in cloned, GM, animals.

Their reasoning seems to be that people want (note, NOT need) to eat more meat, so we have to produce more, and the only way to do this quickly is to insert genes to make livestock more productive.

To make them more productive, they want to create animals which grow more muscle and resist disease. Inserting genes from other animals to achieve these is envisaged as the next 'green revolution'.

A more real picture is that the GM livestock will depend on grain crops to sustain their extra growth, and the present shortages of agricultural land and water, clearance of forests, and starvation will continue to spiral. Resistance to one disease will be traded off by the emergence of others, and used in some quarters as an excuse for poor (cheaper) husbandry.

The scientists involved in developing GM livestock in Scotland repeat the usual mantras of just-grin-and-bear-it and winning the 'race': 
“It is inevitable. It's not only inevitable, it is necessary. The choice is not going to be other technologies, the choice is going to be not eating meat. I think we should just get used to it ... Either we're in it or we come last. But the chance is we'll be exporting the technology without the benefits in this country. We have the potential to change the world from Scotland.” (Prof. Hume of Edinburgh)
Two months before these sentiments were reported, the New Zealand National Science agency, AgResearch, brought its studies on the prevention of abnormalities in cloned animals to an end. After 13 years of trials, and “unacceptable death rates”, it was decided “enough is enough”.

At the regulatory end of cloning, the European Commission (EC) has been accused of misleading Member States: its recent decision to refuse labelling of food from cloned animals and their offspring was based on trade law and not on the legal opinions presented to it. The EC's position that labelling (or banning) of clones would violate World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and risk a dispute with the US is untenable. Besides questions of clone equivalence to the 'parent' animal, there are perfectly valid ethical grounds and animal welfare concerns to legally reject cloning.

Food and Water Watch said:
“We think it is highly unlikely that given the global economic and political situations the US would even launch a WTO dispute over something like cloning when everyone admits it is hardly widespread. It would be pretty hard for them to defend when there is an FDA-requested (Food and Drug Administration) 'voluntary moratorium' on cloning still in place to meet US consumer demand and protect both domestic and export markets.”

“Given all this and the legal opinion that even a complete ban could be argued, the Parliaments' compromise position on labels as a 'bare minimum' is entirely justified and feasible. We've heard enough excuses. Cloning is unnecessary, unwanted and cruel. It's time consumers were told where it is being used so they can avoid it.”
A more practical reason for wanting to avoid regulation or product-labelling of cloned animals is the headache of having to identify them. However, the suggestion that labelling or banning clones is impossible because they can't be traced was recently shown to be false.

Canadian pig-farmers are “sizzling” over plans to develop cleaner-pooping GM (pigs (see P-FREE PIGS IN THE PIPELINE – GMFS News archive, January 2011). The farmers have a real fear that their reputation and their product quality could be compromised if the novel pigs are allowed. Scientists in charge of the GM pig programme dismiss these fears because a new “pig tag” tracking system is already being implemented to trace diseased stock or tainted meat back to their source farms. This could also be extended to ensure that his Enviropigs didn't interbreed with their natural neighbours. “It's not long until all pigs are tracked, right to slaughterhouse and right to the food market ... And that being the case, then the Enviropig will be tracked like any other pig, so that the pork will be separated out.” The same system could obviously be applied to all livestock, including clones.

In Britain, it seems that the Westminster Government is not only condoning the presence of cloned livestock and the sale of their unidentified products within its own shores, but is intent on leading the rest of the world into the same future.

There are already more than 100 offspring of cloned cattle in the UK, including a Holstein dairy herd at Nairn in Scotland. Meat, milk and cheese from these animals will be on grocery shelves shortly.

Sadly, the UK government has been at the forefront of moves in Brussels to sabotage any regulation or labelling of food from clones and their descendants. While most MEPs have called for a complete ban or failing that clear labelling, the UK Food and Farming Secretary sided with the European Commission and ignored public opinion in rejecting both.

Compassion in World Farming accused British ministers of “shameful hypocrisy” for claiming to champion animal welfare while supporting the unnecessary pain, suffering and distress which is part-and-parcel of cloning.

OUR COMMENT

It seems there are an awful lot of fibs being told to promote acceptance of products from cloned animals: we don't need more meat, GM animals will never be a route to better meat availability, GM is not inevitable, nor does GM technology represent a race we have to win, the EC is using clever, but unlikely, legal arguments to excuse its acceptance of cloning, and both tracking and labelling are entirely possible.

If all these fibs have a purpose, it's not that cloning itself is especially useful. It's just that the acceptance of food from clones is a necessary pre-requisite to the acceptance of GM animals.

We have indeed the potential to change the world from Scotland. Let's be a world model of a sustainable, local, natural food supply. Start today by signing the 'Declaration against cloning of animals for food' at www.clonefreefood.eu/. This initiative by Eurogroup for Animals is encouraging European citizens, politicians and companies, especially food producers and retailers, to show their opposition to cloning. The first signatory to the Declaration was MEP Kartika Liotard, rapporteur of the recent Novel Foods directive review.

SOURCES:
  • Trade law an excuse to stop labelling of food from clones, Food and Water Watch, 17.05.11
  • Joseph Hall Mon, Genetically altered pigs debate set to sizzle, www.guelphmercury.com, 14.03.11
  • While the population debate rages, in the south of Edinburgh ..., Sunday Herald, 10 04.11
  • Unacceptable Death Rates End Cloning Trials in New Zealand, Institute of Science in Society Report 28.03.11
  • Sean Poulter, Unlabelled clone meat allowed on shop shelves as food safety proposals are ripped up, Mail Online, 26.05.11
  • Sean Poulter, Cloned meat betrayal: Unlabelled dairy and beef products to go on sale here after OUR minister sabotages Europe's call for a ban, Daily Mail, 30.03.11
  • New campaign to stamp out food from cloned animals, www.eurogroupforanimals.org, 22.06.11

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