Cloning and animal exploitation

The Daily Mail reports this morning that 8 clone-offspring cows have been born in the UK. Also today, the first survey of public opinion on ‘clone farming’ has been released indicating significant unease and opposition to the idea of meat products or milk from cloned sources.

There are strict prohibitions on reproductive cloning for humans in most countries (for example, the recently debated HFEA bill in the UK, and the Human reproductive Cloning Act 2001). However there are few, if any, constraints on the cloning of animals. Is this the start of a new era of animal exploitation?

In recent months, there have been multiple reports of commercially
cloned animals, for example drug-sniffing or cancer-sniffing dogs in
South Korea, replicated pet dogs, and race horses. Genetic selection
of animals with particular characteristics is not a novel human
endeavour. For centuries humans have selectively bred animals with
particular features in order to increase the chances of generating
offspring that will be able to fulfil a certain role. Think of draught
horses, dairy cattle, poodles, or short-haired cats. These are all
breeds of animal that do not occur naturally in the wild, that have
been created by deliberate human intervention. Reproductive cloning
does not represent a major departure from this artificial evolutionary
process. It simply makes it more efficient and reliable – and offers
distinct commercial advantages.

For cloned cattle, the aim of cloning is not that the cloned animals
themselves would be used for meat or diary production. At this stage it
is too expensive to clone animals for that to be commercially viable.
Instead, animals with highly desirable characteristics are cloned. The
resultant embryos are then sold around the world with the hope that
they will produce offspring that are exceptional milk producers or
better for meat production.

Cloning is destined to revolutionise certain types of highly
competitive animal industry. There are a range of ethical qualms about
this. Much of the opposition to the idea of cloned animals in the food
supply relates to concerns about the possible safety for humans of
consuming food derived from cloning. However there can also be concerns
for the animals involved.

We might have concerns for animals about the specific medical
procedures involved in cloning, though both artificial insemination and
in-vitro fertilisation are regularly used in commercial animal
production. There might also be concerns about health consequences for
animals that are cloned or their offspring. There are moderately high
rates of illness and miscarriage amongst cloned animals. The European
Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies
highlighted these
concerns about animal welfare.

However there is a more general concern about cloning and its effects
on animals. Cloning will make it easier (and more commercially
worthwhile) to select animals with particular characteristics. This
will make it easier to use animals in a large number of ways that
currently exist (laboratory experimentation, food production,
entertainment), but may also make it possible to use them in novel
ways. It may increase the number of animals that are exploited for
human use, as well as the ways in which they can be exploited.

This objection to cloning isn’t centred at cloning per se, rather at
the ways in which animals that are cloned are used. It may be perfectly
acceptable to clone seeing-eye dogs, but we may object to the cloning
of more anaemic cows for veal production. In the same way, we might
think that (if it were safe) it would be acceptable to clone humans to
allow an infertile couple to bear a genetically related child, but not
in order to create a group of individuals to be used as slaves or organ
donors. The biggest general concern about cloning in animals may be the
exploitation that it will make possible. 

Links

Clone farm cows born in Britain: How long before their meat and milk is on sale in our shops?
Daily Mail 6/6/08

Public strongly against cloned meat, study reveals
Guardian 6/6/08


How much do I hear for the cloned dog?
Independent 2/6/08


FDA’s approval of  cloned beef for human consumption ignites debate
PBS Newshour 27/5/08


Cancer-sniffing dog being cloned in SKorea: bio firm
20/5/08


South Korea to use cloned dogs to sniff for drugs and explosives
24/4/08


Cloned Quarter horses…the future of racing
News channel 3/6/08


Ethical aspects of animal cloning for food supply
European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies 16/1/08

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