Beef from cattle cloned in laboratories will be available very soon in a supermarket near you if the scientists' predictions are to be believed. Like many scientists' predictions however cloned beef seems to have gone as far as "almost ready to go on the market" and stalled. It could be a result of the recession, the credit crunch, of course. After successfully cloning a calf from an adult in the lab. there is still a long and expensive road to be travelled before a commercially viable production system can be set up. Since the announcement in 2007 that the first viable cloned calves had been bred investment capital has dried up completely and with so many question marks hanging over the business of turning a successful experiment into a business proposition it is understandable potential investors would want a lot of guarantees.
One of the big drawbacks of cloned livestock is expense. It costs thousands of Pounds, Dollars or Euros to have scientists do in the laboratory what bulls and cows have been doing for free since time immemorial. The supporters of cloning claim they can offer a near 100% success rate in producing healthy calves that will produce a good profit. Bulls and cows cannot guarantee any such thing of course but their failure rate would have to be very high or their calves very sickly and skinny before a cost benefit can be obtained by switching from current artificial insemination methods (the poor bull rarely actually gets it's leg over a real cow these days) to creating a foetus in the lab.
Because of the expense involved the clones see their future in the premium meat market, cloning exotic and expensive breeds. But would beef from a prize Charleroi or Aberdeen Angus really work in a stew or casserole. Few of us want to eat filet steak for every meal even if we can afford it. Also the show breeds are very delicate thanks to selective breeding and could not survive in open fields on a natural diet. They need to be sheltered in heated byres and fed highly processed supplements or top quality grain that might otherwise be eaten by humans. Again the equation makes no sense because eight kilograms of grain produces just one kilogram of meat. Those are just a few of the commercial issues.
Inevitably the arrival of clone tissue in the food chain with spark ethical protests and we will be asked by organisations of the right and left, "would you eat meat from a cloned cow?" Forget the warnings of cranks and fanatics about the consequences of going against nature. Actually eating the flesh of a clone would not pose any direct threat to our health. Personally, I would not give a hoot, a steak is a steak and we should remember the first animals ever farmed for food were snails and as they are hermaphrodites they clone themselves in a manner of speaking.
Archaeological evidence traces snail farming back to 10,500BC and in all that time the question of whether it is ethical to eat animals that have shagged themselves has never arisen. Whatever snails get up to in the privacy of their shells is their own business.
Snails are a much less complex life form than domestic cattle however and experience shows the further up the evolutionary ladder an animal is the more necessary it becomes to stir up its gene pool quite regularly.
Many people would not eat snails but for aesthetic rather than ethical reasons. If we don't like the look of something there is no way it is going in our mouths. This probably goes a long way towards explaining why the majority of us are 100% heterosexual.
Having said all that, it is unlikely I shall ever eat cloned beef, though not in my view unethical, it is bad for the planet.
Prime quality beef from grain fed cattle has an enormous carbon footprint as suggested above and is a huge drain on food stocks. With a global food crunch lurking in the shadow of the credit crunch eating premium, grain fed meat is economic madness.
In the case of cloned beef the adverse energy balance is even worse. I recently read a description of how many scientists are involved in producing beef this way. Add up the cost of feeding them, keeping them in warm, comfortable sheds and providing enough electronic gadgets to keep them amused and the cloning and intensive production of farm livestock is totally unfeasible. Add to that the ethics of reducing living, feeling animals to mere products by forcing them through a totally artificial life cycle from the moment the egg is artificially fertilised not by sperm from the male but by the nucleus of a cell taken from its ear and inserted into an ovum from which all genetic material has been removed would be unacceptable to many people. Yoghurt is one thing, cattle with their big, soft, sad brown eyes are another.
The question we must ask then is how much harm are we willing to do to the planet just so scientists can prove how clever they are. In the face of such a weak economic case the answer to that is very very little.
Clones: Science Makes War On NatureWe could understand the arguments for genetically modified food crops (although the science turned out to be fraudulent). Increased yields were a worthwhile goal. But there is nothing to gain from switching animal husbandry from natural reproduction (bull - cow, ram - ewe,) to cloning (scientist - test tube), it will make meat hideosly expensive and hand more control to global corporations.
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Not that long ago the words mad and scientist were related as closely as any identical twins. Recently with the growth of big government politics and corporate control frakery the kind of scientific research that even Hitler's Nazi regime would have baulked at is suddenly respectable. but what possible benefit can there be in creating creatures that are neither man nor mouse but a bit of each ...
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