Advocates of cloning would have us believe it is just another technology on a continuum of breeding methods used in agriculture, and clones are identical twins to the "parent", just born at a different time, --sure--. It is not just another form of natural breeding or a simple advance on selective breeding practices, nor is it about giving the poor farmers a tool to improve the genetics of their animals. It is about profits for corporations entrenched in the practice, corporations who with the FDA tell us we have nothing to fear.
Selective breeding generally gave us we wanted, but sometimes we went too far. Pit bulls that were far too mean, pigs that could not survive outdoors or cattle that could literally milk themselves to death. Through cloning, geneticists have found that they can move far beyond the confines of selective breeding and create identical copies of valuable animals. Problem is, cloning can take animals far beyond their natural genetic limits and it will suppress the healthy genetic variation of our livestock.
Cloning is a laboratory procedure. Genetic material taken from an adult cell is placed into an egg cell from which the genetic material has been removed. An electric current stimulates cell division and the dividing embryo is placed in a host female where it develops till birth. Most cloned embryos (as many as 85%) do not survive till birth, those that do may be over weight, have faulty immune systems, oversize heads, respiratory problems and often die within weeks. The survivors are said to be normal, but who really knows?
While USDA calls for more testing and overwhelmingly Americans call for mandatory labeling, FDA pushes on. Clones and transgenic clones, (animals with a foreign gene inserted, in effect duplicates of a constructed cell, not an existing animal) natural, safe?
Wilton Bunch, Phd. states (Christian Ethics Today June 2002) "the process of cloning causes genetic damage to all the subsequent cells". While the science of cloning may have advanced since since 2002, and advocates would dispute Dr. Bunch's claim, do we really know? Why so many deaths, what about the offspring of clones?
While ethicists tell us it is wrong, Christopher Wills (Discover, Jan 1998) tells us "if you accept factory-farming them (animals) for food and breeding them for medical experiment, as most of us do at least tacitly, then it becomes hard to cavil at cloning. It is just the logical next step". But that's where he's wrong, we don't have to accept cloning or factory farming.
There are practical alternatives, used by many farmers, myself included. We drew the line at some point between selective breeding and factory farming. We have moved our livestock away from the laboratory, away from the factory farm system and back where they belong. Cows need to be on pasture, not in a feedlot, pigs need to get out of their confinement crates and chickens need to get outside and scratch for bugs in the grass.
Forget about cloning $15,000 animals and look at farming for what we need it to be, not what the FDA and corporate profiteers want it to become. It was and can still be a means to provide a healthy diet, in an environmentally sustainable manner that is affordable to consumers and fair to farmers. It will be none of this if we disregard ethics in our treatment of animals and the environment. We can not think that cloning is a natural process or that any part of factory farming is acceptable, because we know better.
Jim Goodman is a farmer from Wonewoc WI and a Food and Society Policy Fellow