Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Debate about Cloning

Earlier in the week the FDA released a report about the safety of meat from cloned animals. Since I'm in New Zealand, it didn't figure too highly in our newspapers, and I first read about it in blogland.

Here's a link to an article in the Washington Post

I have to say that I didn't find the standard of debate about the issue to be very high. So I thought I would raise a few points on the issue:

1) Firstly, since a large majority of people want to know what they are eating, I think it makes good sense that food that is the product of cloned animals or their offspring be labelled as such. Just as I want to know whether my food is produced in New Zealand or imported, even though it is all safe to eat. I have my reasons...
On the other hand, maybe it occurred to the FDA that the more information on labels, the more cluttered they get, and the less they get read anyway...

2) Most of those who don't want to eat meat from cloned sources seem to have only one reason as far as I can see - and it's not so much a reason as an emotional reaction i.e. "Yuck!" or "Gross!"
Actually, that's the reaction that children commonly have when they find out how the "natural" method of reproduction works. Fortunately for the survival of the human race, they usually get over it.

3) Since artificially cloned animals are enormously expensive, their meat is not likely to reach the market place in any significant quantities. Nor are female cloned animals likely to produce enough offspring for the market place - what is more likely is that cloned male animals will be used to provide semen for breeding, so the most likely scenario is the offspring of a cloned male and a non-cloned female.

4) The offspring of a cloned animal is not a clone (unless you do it all over again). Just as if you have an IVF baby, that child's offspring are not therefore IVF children, unless they go through the same procedure. Nor is the child of a twin (a natural clone) automatically a twin, just because their parent is.

5) Oh yes - about twins - they are natural clones. That's what a clone is, when you divide a bunch of cells to produce an exact replica of the individual. So of course, since farmers breed for twinning (even the organic ones) we've all been eating clones for a long time.

6) Do you have any friends who have had babies by IVF treatment? The process of cloning is pretty much the same, with one added step. I would have said "clinical" rather than "gross".

7) Cloning is not genetic engineering. Cloning aims to produce an exact replica. Genetic engineering, on the other hand, aims to produce something new, for instance introducing a gene segment from another plant into maize to make it more pest resistant. Or perhaps introducing a strawberry gene into an apple to give us strawberry flavoured apples?

8) Just possibly, the reason why the FDA said that it is safe, is that after seven years of study, they have found that it actually is safe. Of course, they may have missed a subtle risk. In my opinion, the world is full enough of obvious risks, like smoking, or being knocked down crossing the road, or food poisoning from eating spoiled food, without worrying about the subtle ones.
There are far nastier things done to food that we should worry about - like feeding animals large amounts of hormones and antibiotics, which encourages antibiotic-resistant bugs.

9) Reason to become a vegetarian? That's one common reaction I've seen. Well, meat may be cloned but that's nothing to the amount of genetic modification that is going on with crops. For instance, plants that are naturally pest resistant. Sure, the farmer uses less pesticides, which must be a good thing? Ummm.. maybe not, since the pest resistance comes from a high natural level of compounds toxic to bugs (and maybe humans). It's almost enough to make me want to give up eating plants and live solely on meat!

10) If you really want to avoid eating meat from the offspring of clones (not, as I said, the hugely expensive clones themselves), then by all means eat certified organic produce. Or New Zealand lamb, since we still produce it the natural way over here, as far as I know. Personally, I don't eat organic. It costs twice as much. It's better for my health to have some money spare so that I can buy running shoes, keep warm in winter and pay for a few other necessary things.

Comments? Always welcome, provided you read what I say and respond thoughtfully and intelligently. (Of course my readers always do that, don't they?)


David Edward said...

im keeping warm in winter and have no need of running shoes, nor cloned anything. I do love Lamb!
and where would we be without wool?
here from michele, I posted a new entry. and have you visited Minerva today?

Anonymous said...

Ooh, cloning I will haveto come back and read this tomorrow when I am more awake and itisn't past my bedtime. Really I was just stopping by to tellyouthat I had asnwered your question over at my place and that you should go and look because you hit a soft spot and it got a longer answer than most people would expect from "What is your favorite season and why?"

OldLady Of The Hills said...

I had an immediate reaction to that story in the newspaper here....UGH!
For me there is something unseemly about it all! Cloning, Test Tube Baby's, etc. I actually eat very little meat....I DO eat Chicken Turkey and Fish....And I try to eat Oraganic whenever I can. The whole idea of all these things feels wrong to me. My reasons are too complex to go into but, put simply, it ALL seems completely unnatural to me. All of it.
So, I will stick with "Organic" to make sure I am NOT earing a lot of engineered anything...!
Great topic Catherine, And MICHELE thinks so too!

rashbre said...

I think you've provided a good description.

Of course, there's a lot of parallel developments now and I noticed, blearily, the other morning that a US scientist has now used some of his own cells to develop a clone as part of research into stem cells.

This gets into a tricky area, the balance between things 'done for good' and the laws of unintended consequences.

Not forgetting the primeval forces of nature itself.

Check the (UK) article here.


Sara said...

Hello, Michele sent me to say that I need to re-read this...and post something intelligent...not something I am right now.

carmilevy said...

Nicely put, Catherine. I'm sure the religious zealots who picket research labs would read this and reach for their pitchforks and placards. Of course, how they would picket a blog is beyond me. But it would at least raise their blood pressure, which is enough to make me happy.

If it - and "it" meaning anything, really - improves the quality of life without exacting a punishing cost on individuals or society at-large, then it should be pursued. Folks who condemn cloning without understanding the facts would do well to understand that very basic truth.

Thanks for putting it into its proper perspective.

kenju said...

You raise some excellent points, Catherine. I had never thought about the possibility of eating meat from cloned animals. Somehow, it doesn't seem like something I'd want to do - too many possibilities for problems we might not know about for decades.
MIchele sent me.