An increase in the cloning of farmed animals will lead to a rise in welfare problems and threatens the long-term health of livestock breeds as genetic diversity declines, say campaigners.
Following reports this week that cloned offspring are already being bred in the UK, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said there was no evidence that consuming foodstuffs from cloned animals was a food safety risk.
The Agency has already traced two bulls born in the UK from embryos harvested from a cloned cow in the US. Although the UK requires any food from clones and their offspring to be authorised before being sold to consumers, the US has no such regulation. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in 2008 that beef and milk from cloned animals could be consumed without any special labelling.
However, campaigners have pointed to a number of health and welfare concerns. A report published in May this year by the consultancy group Testbiotech said cloning allowed the rapid spread of 'irreversible' genetic diseases, as well as a preference for high-yielding animals and all the welfare issues associated with them.
The Soil Association has pointed out the health risks of the cloning process. 'Cloning involves applying invasive and cruel techniques on the surrogate mothers that are used for producing the clones and, as the process is currently very inefficient, many deformed animals are created and die for each surviving healthy clone,' said head of policy Emma Hockridge.
Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, Head of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research admitted some cloned animals were born with defects but said the 'abnormalities frequently seen in other cloned animals are far less evident in cattle and sometimes absent altogether'.
Some scientists have also pointed to the benefits of cloning to increase genetic diversity by allowing rare breeds to flourish, but Hockridge says that given the current expensive of cloning, it is likely to be limited to 'high-yielding dairy cows to maximise yields' and as such in the short term is only likely to reduce genetic diversity.
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