Monday, November 26, 2007

Poll Question, a backstory

How cloning works when scientists explain the practice of cloning livestock, they describe clones as genetic twins born at different times. Cloning companies say it's just another reproductive technology, such as artificial insemination. The scientific term for cloning is somatic cell nuclear transfer. To produce a clone, the nucleus of a donor egg is removed and replaced with the DNA of a cow, pig or other animal. A tiny electric shock coaxes the egg to grow into a copy of the original animal. The first mammal cloned from an adult cell was Dolly the sheep in 1996.

Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America and an assistant secretary for food at the Agriculture Department under President Jimmy Carter, called the recent FDA study "limited in scope" because of the small number of animals involved and because it did not address such issues as whether the clones were more susceptible to infection or other microbial problems, as some critics suspect.

Social and ethical questions also persist, Foreman said. "This study does not address the big issue . . . which is: 'Is this what we want to do as a society? What do we think about having a clone burger?' We still need to have a national conversation about that."

The Humane Society of the United States has asked for a ban on milk and meat from clones, noting that many clones die mysteriously during gestation or soon after birth. Others have wondered aloud why it is necessary to clone cows that produce huge amounts of milk when surpluses, rather than shortages, are the main problem facing the U.S. dairy industry today.

But Barbara Glenn, director of animal biotechnology for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said it is time to allow the new products on the market. "These are the best and healthiest and highest-producing animals," Glenn said, adding that "the science is clear" that clonal meat and milk are equivalent to conventional foods. In terms of animal welfare, she added, clones "are basically the rock stars at the farm . . . and are receiving the best veterinary care that an animal can have."

Aside from the health issues are questions about animal welfare, because cloned animals die in higher numbers during pregnancy and right after birth. A National Academy of Sciences panel looking at cloning raised the issue in a 2002 report. The Humane Society of the United States urged the FDA to keep the ban in place. In a letter June 28, President Wayne Pacelle wrote that cloning "carries too high a cost with regard to animal suffering, yet offers little benefit to humans and animals alike.''

"Critics still claim the process will create monstrous new hybrids in some kind of barnyard 'Boys from Brazil.' Nothing could be further from the truth," said Gregory Conko, director of food safety for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The process of cloning is not capable of producing anything other than that which nature itself is capable of producing.

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