Welcome to the cloning factory
2.Cloned animals research report published
3.We have lost our way with food
NOTE: The third piece below's an article from The Times disparaging the public concerns about cloned animals revealed by a report from the UK's Food Standards Agency.
Typically, while being patronising about the public's "ignorance" and misplaced squeamishness over cloning, its author displays a lack of knowledge about the subject that's truly astonishing, even claiming cloning is essential for improving animal health and welfare.
Contrast this with what the report tells us:
"As participants learned about the current low efficiency rates of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) they became increasingly concerned about the impact the technique has on animal welfare. This became a significant factor behind their reluctance to accept food derived from cloned animals."
1. WELCOME TO THE CLONING FACTORY
CLONED ANIMALS RESEARCH REPORT PUBLISHED
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published research into the views of the UK public about cloning animals, and cloned animals, their offspring and
their products (such as milk and eggs) entering the food chain. MORE DETAILS BELOW.
WILLY WONKA AND THE CLONING FACTORY
by Marcy Darnovsky, Biopolitical Times
Is Lou Hawthorne biotech's Willy Wonka?
DOG CLONING AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
by Marcy Darnovsky and Jesse Reynolds, Biopolitical Times
In the minor flurry of stories last month about an on-line auction of dog cloning services, the issue of intellectual property was completely overlooked. That's too bad, since the cloning business, like so many others, is best understood by following the money.
CLONING THE DEAD
by Jesse Reynolds, Biopolitical Times
The UK is now proposing allowing scientists to try to create clonal embryos from the tissues of dead people, most of whom have not given their consent.
2. Cloned animals research report published
Food Standards Agency, 5 June 2008
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has today published research into the views of the UK public about cloning animals, and cloned animals, their offspring and their products (such as milk and eggs) entering the food chain.
The Agency carried out the UK-wide research in advance of being asked by any company wanting authorisation to market food produced using cloned animals. The FSA is the UK body responsible for the assessment of these and other novel foods (these are foods that do not have a history of significant consumption within the European Union before May 1997).
Key findingsThe key areas of concern that workshop participants expressed were whether food derived from clones would be safe to eat, standards of animal welfare, the lack of tangible consumer benefits, and a mistrust in the motives of the key players involved.
A summary of findings is below. The full report can be found at the link towards the end of this page.
When considered in the context of current breeding practices, animal cloning was seen by participants to be very different from other Assisted Reproductive Technologies; it was felt to represent a leap from 'giving mother nature a helping hand' to 'interfering with nature'.
Existing levels of knowledge and understanding of the cloning process varied widely among participants at the beginning of the research. However, it was clear that their focus was less on 'how does it work?' and mainly on 'why is it being used?' and 'what are the consequences?'
Participants struggled to identify any tangible consumer benefits and were concerned that the main motive would be a financial one to biotech companies, livestock breeders, farmers or food retailers.
As participants learned about the current low efficiency rates of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) they became increasingly concerned about the impact the technique has on animal welfare. This became a significant factor behind their reluctance to accept food derived from cloned animals. Other ethical concerns raised were about where the technology is going and whether we, mankind, have the moral right to pursue such a course.
Participants were concerned that cloning could result in food that was unsafe for human consumption; this was partly a function of the perceived high incidence of miscarriages, deformed and short-lived. They feared that the process of cloning might somehow create new diseases or affect the food in some way that will be harmful to humans and that the impact on human health and wellbeing may only become apparent at some unforeseen point in the future. There was a major mismatch between the methods used by regulatory authorities to assess food safety and the public's perception of what is needed. Participants wanted to see methods for assessing food safety that were similar to the approach used in clinical drugs trials.
If food derived from clones and their offspring were to go on sale in the UK, the research provides a clear steer in terms of what would provide consumer confidence. Regulations should be in place that address the entire process, these should be monitored and enforced and should be fully transparent to the consumer. Clones and their offspring should be fully traceable throughout the food chain and food should be labelled to enable consumers to make an informed choice.
There was a call for a programme of continuing independent research to improve the efficiency of the cloning process and to prove that food derived from clones is safe to eat.
The Agency (possibly in partnership with other bodies) was seen by most as having a key role to play, both in terms of setting and policing the rules and in informing and educating the public and therefore allowing them to make informed choices. Whatever the Agency's role, it is crucial that it is perceived to be independent and trustworthy.
Animal cloning is an emerging technology in the EU and is more developed in the United States. If its use becomes economically possible, there is the potential for food produced from cloned animals to enter the food chain.
Although there has been some research among US public, to date there has been very little within the EU or the UK. The Agency commissioned the company Creative Research to explore initial public perceptions of animal cloning.
The Agency recognises that animal cloning is likely to trigger consumer concerns about food safety, animal welfare and ethics and the findings from this research will enable the views of the UK public to be reflected in any EU discussions about the use of the technology.
Concerns about animal welfare and agricultural practices are not dealt with by the Agency. These are the responsibility of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
The science behind the story
Cloning is the creation of an organism (the clone) that is an exact genetic copy of another organism (the donor).
Clones occur in nature and many plants, such as strawberries, propagate in this way. Some animals also clone themselves, such as amoeba (a microscopic single-celled organism) and some insects, such as greenfly. Cloning sometimes occurs in humans too identical twins can be thought of as clones as they share exactly the same genetic material (although strictly speaking neither one is a copy of the other).
Cloning is widely used in horticulture, as plants grown from a cutting or a graft are genetic copies of the original plants, and some foods that we eat, such as potatoes, bananas and grapes are derived from clones.
Clones of cattle and other farm animals can be produced using a technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). SCNT was first used successfully in sheep to produce 'Dolly' at the Roslin Institute in 1996. SCNT does not occur naturally.
Related linksAnimal cloning and implications for the food chain
Read the full report on findings of research among the general public (pdf 620KB)
Read about cloned animals and their offspring entering the food chain.
3. We have lost our way with food
The Times, June 9 2008
Most of the hysteria around GM produce is a sign of our separation from our agrarian roots
Personally, I blame the Industrial Revolution. If the average British housewife had never been separated from her agrarian roots, we would not be in half the mess we are in. We'd grow our own organic vegetables, make low-fat casseroles out of pigs' entrails and live healthily and hysteria-free beyond the subliminal control of the Tesco mother ship. We might also be a teensy bit bored, but that's another column altogether.
Can there be anything more depressing than the oppressive superstition of today's food shoppers - predominantly female - when faced with what they perceive as "bad food"? I doubt it. Logic doesn't get a look in. Although faced with galloping bills, a grave world food shortage and unassailable evidence that the high-salt, high-fat and high-sugar processed diet that they favour is killing their loved ones with kindness, consumers are opposed to technological solutions.
For - surprise, surprise - the first credible survey into attitudes to food derived from cloned animals has revealed strong concerns. The public - for which read women - are worried about safety, ethics and animal welfare. The Foods Standards Agency found that they regarded cloned animal products as "interfering with mother nature"; "an unstoppable juggernaut"; and "a slippery slope" - and that they plainly preferred to die of stale clichés rather than drink fresh milk from cloned cows. They feared such products might be unsafe for human consumption and wanted extensive five to ten-year tests - presumably until the moon was in Aries and Gemini was in the ascendancy - in line with checks on new medicines.
It is a funny old world. As food riots break out in Haiti and Egypt and leaders at the UN food summit declare that a relaunch of agriculture is necessary to feed the planet, the great British shopper takes anti-science to new levels by objecting to increased food production.
We have been here before. This same emotional argument put a stop to the widespread use of genetically modified cereals in the UK. GM became a tainted brand that is now snuck into cheap food in small print. Yet if there is evidence that GM foods do any environmental or human damage, I'm still waiting to see it. (like I'm still waiting for the predicted millions to die of human form CJD from infected burgers.)
The ironies mount up: the same people who happily pay thousands of pounds for IVF babies, or seek gene therapy cures for their child's asthma, condemn genetic modification as "dangerous". The fastidious public, misshapen by obesity and sentenced to early death by doughnut, worry about "Frankenstein food".
What this irrationality illustrates, vividly, is how ignorant people have become since they were divorced from the basics of agriculture. The land taught a wisdom we have lost. Genetic modification is simply selective breeding; it has been key to farming since the first hunter gatherer decided to stay put and find a bull for his cow. The slow-motion process of modifying animals by breeding has been going on for thousands of years and there is not a single strain of cow, sheep, pig, horse, dog, cat or hamster that is not the result of extensive generations of species manipulation by humans. An identical process went on with plants. And by doing so, productivity has improved immeasurably.
It is completely bonkers to think that today's animals and plants bear any resemblance to what used to exist in the wild. Once upon a time all dogs looked the same; we simply modified them by breeding those with genetic abnormalities. And clever gardeners have done the same: creating, for example, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower as mutations from the same species of plant.
Genome selection means nothing more radical than clever breeding - discovering what kind of genes work best and using them to improve existing strains or exclude disease. Cloning is a further acceleration of that process - jumping the time period that normal reproduction takes; speeding up of the selection of the most productive. Scientists tasked with solving the world's food crisis - and we can't leave it to politicians - know it's safe. Similarly, the US Food and Drug Administration has decreed produce from clones and their offspring "as safe as food we eat every day". The European Food Safety Authority, a little more cautiously - because it works on European snail time - says the same.
What happened with GM cereals cannot be allowed to happen again over meat and milk simply because the British shopper is overwhelmed by the "yuck" factor. There is a much more at stake than the sensibilities of the squeamish. It is as simple as this: the welfare, productivity, health and sustainability of farm animals have to improve if the world is going to keep eating meat. The oceans are being fished out, agricultural land is going to biofuels: something has to produce the protein to keep the world alive. The first cloned Holstein dairy cows, said to be capable of producing 30 per cent more milk, have been born in Britain. Instead of getting the vapours, we should rejoice.