Cloning: Agribusiness as Usual
- Apart from the under-researched 'safety' of cloning, and its inherent cruelty to animals, this technology serves only corporate, not consumer interests
By Peter Melchett
The Guardian - UK, January 16, 2008
As a result, European regulators are now under pressure to adopt the same pro-cloning policy in order to allow imports of foods from cloned animals, and indeed that is supported by the EU's scientific advisory committee. Already, thousands of doses of cattle semen from clones have been used in the US. In September last year, the European Commission held a meeting to help it decide on its policy. Experts explained how cloning depends on several horribly cruel processes. Using hormones and invasive techniques, the eggs are extracted from female animals, and surrogate mothers are then used to rear the implanted embryos. There are frequent abnormalities and many foetuses are naturally aborted or have to be terminated. Many others die soon after birth.
Partly because of these huge losses, the clones themselves are extremely expensive, and would not be used for food, but they would be used, for example, for producing semen for artificial insemination.
US regulators have decided that the progeny of cloned animals can be used for food, despite the fact that there is almost no scientific research to show if this is safe. The Soil Association, along with almost all of those involved with organic food, and many others, is concerned about these further attempts to manipulate nature in ways that will benefit a few of the largest farmers and enrich some of the largest agribusiness companies in the world.
My own concerns fall into two main areas - risk and animal welfare. Food safety cannot and should not be judged until there is a body of scientific understanding of the biological impacts of cloning. With so little research into the health impacts, it is unscientific and totally irresponsible to simply "assume" or "hope" that these animals are safe for eating. This approach has been proven to be wrong with GM; many animal trials show negative effects from "EU approved" GM crops.
There are major animal welfare problems, which mean this technique should not be allowed even if it is "safe" for people. The commercial use of cloning, for example through artificial insemination, will further reduce the genetic diversity of livestock and so increase the risk of disease epidemics. More generally, this technique will promote industrialisation of livestock rearing with negative nutritional, animal health and environmental consequences, including increased emissions of greenhouse gases.
Whatever your view on the lack of scientific evidence for food safety, the animal welfare arguments against cloning on animal welfare grounds seem to me to be irresistible. The scientists involved in cloning claim that the "loss rates" are coming down as the technology improves. Joyce D'Silva, of Compassion in World Farming, is clear that this technology is unacceptable on animal welfare grounds. She notes that cloned animals "are the high-producing animals that have the most endemic welfare problems anyway".
Those supporting cloning respond to the animal welfare criticisms in exactly the same way as the GM industry has responded to the realities of higher pesticide use, similar or lower yields, and rejection in the marketplace - by promising jam tomorrow. In the case of cloning, scientists claim that cloning could be used to enhance animal welfare - for example, by spreading useful genetic mutations that make animals resistant to diseases such as scrapie. The same scientists claim that cloning could make animals able to adapt to a changing climate or to resist new diseases. There is no evidence that any of this can actually be achieved, any more than GM crops have eradicated hunger and starvation nearly a quarter of a century after GM scientists started claiming that these miracles would soon be delivered by GM technology.
In an interesting quote, the UK's National Farmers Union (NFU), which represents agribusiness, and currently takes a pro-GM and pro-cloning line, reveals what is wrong about the reaction of some farmers to these new technologies. Helen Ferrier, the NFU's food science adviser, says: "Generally, our views on the safety or the acceptability etc are really based on the opinions of independent scientific experts." It's one thing to rely on scientists to pronounce on safety, but why on earth aren't the NFU listening to their customers when it comes to deciding whether a particular way of raising farm animals is "acceptable" or not? Whether something is acceptable is a moral question, something which people producing a product should leave to society as a whole and individual customers to decide. It is a gross abuse of science to suggest that pronouncing on acceptability is a scientific matter.
To add insult to injury, the NFU go on to say that they don't want there to be any requirement to label meat or dairy products from cloned animals or their offspring because it might "mislead" consumers. So the animals suffer and the people who buy the food from these new and cruel systems are going to be kept in the dark about where their food comes from. I suppose, as an organic farmer, working in a system that bans GM and cloning, I should be pleased; but, in fact, the whole business leaves me feeling sickened and sad.