Thursday, December 28, 2006


We've been cloning animals for a few years now, but there's been a recent development that might affect the way you look at your ribeye in the near future.

Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, concluded that "...meat and milk from cattle, swine and goat clones is as safe to eat as the food we eat every day." While the conclusion doesn't mean approval, we're one step closer to being able to sample "future-steaks" and "space-chops." Those in favor of the technology say it would be used primarily for breeding and not for steak or pork tenderloin. This means that if Harry the bull is a virile horny beast, and is a prolific breeder, farmers can clone him to sire more cattle forcing Harry's genes into the herd thereby directing the bloodline. It's kinda like what the English, French, and Russian aristocracy did, but not really.

Interestingly enough, Barb Glenn of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, mentioned that she doesn't think labels on the food are necessary since people won't actually be eating cloned animals, just the children from the parents. That makes senses. She must write those wonderful screenplays in Hollywood, where you can drive your Calvin-pissing sticker adorned SUV through the plot holes.

Aren't you thinking of the Mendel genetic inheritance model from high school biology? You know the one where you mix and match dominant and recessive genes? Good, you remember. OK, so if you remove all the random genes donors, and replace one of the parents with Harry's genes in each test sequence, and let Harry do what Harry is best at, there will be a lot of calves that have Harry's horns or large flanks. Then we eat those flanks. Those flanks have Harry's genes. We just ate Harry.

My main concern is that if you breed generations of clones, you can eventually help introduce genetic imperfections in the herd, which threatens the long-term viability of the food source. Of course in an ideal world, the farmers would rotate the genetic material introduced in the generational breeding so as to reduce the chance of introducing anomalies like a third butt or a horn that grows in place of an eye. Of course, the third butt might be a plus in the industry. One cow = three rump roasts! YES! The consumer wins again!!

You can read the FDA Draft Risk Assessment for more information. I recommend looking at Ch. 6, Table VI-1: Summary of Causes of Death of Calf Clones. "SCNT" (somatic cell nuclear transfer) refers to the process most commonly used to generate animal clones. The section detailing chronic diarrhea, intussusception of small intestine with obstruction sounds tasty. Bloody poop-burger anyone? I'll have one with extra cloned placenta juice please! OK, only two clones died from it, but come on - that's only 8.3% from the test population!! Lighten up! Beef herky anyone? I have to call it herky because it's not quite jerky.

Which leads me to recommend this book: Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood. Her name may be familiar from her other book which was made into a movie with the eponymous name, "The Handmaiden's Tale." There's some exploration about the slippery slope of genetic manipulation perfectly manifested in pigoons, creatures that are part pig and part human and are bred for solely for organ transplants.

So this is a multi-faceted medical, moral, and social issue. Chew on that. Hold your breath people; we still have the sustaining drum roll for the FDA's ruling on xenotransplantation.

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