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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 May, 2004, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Expert fights horse cloning ban
By Christine McGourty
BBC science correspondent

The first horse clone, Prometea, BBC
Prometea, the first cloned horse, was born in Italy last year
A UK scientific expert in horse breeding has accused the government of giving in to animal rights activists after it rejected his bid on cloning.

Professor Twink Allen applied for a licence to clone horses a year ago but was turned down by the Home Office.

The world's first cloned horse was born subsequently in Italy in August.

Professor Allen, of the Thoroughbred Breeders' Equine Fertility Unit, will appeal against the ban because he believes the work has scientific value.

This is a technique that will allow that to take a quantum leap forward
Professor Twink Allen
Cloning is banned in horse racing but could be used in competitions such as show jumping.

The champions are usually geldings, which have been neutered and so cannot breed.

The aim is to overcome that problem by cloning champion horses which can then be used to breed, rather than competing themselves.

Professor Allen said: "We've got no method of selecting the superior males and females to produce the better genetic stock and this is a technique that will allow that to take a quantum leap forward."

The cloned mule Idaho Gem (University of Idaho)
The cloned hybrid mule Idaho Gem was born earlier in 2003
He accused the government of bowing to pressure from animal rights protesters.

The Home Office, which licenses research involving animals, would not permit the work in the UK because of concerns about animal welfare.

Officials spent several years examining the issue before concluding that the benefits did not outweigh the possible costs to the animals involved.

Some scientists and breeders fear British horse production could lose its competitive edge, if it falls behind the Italian work.

Jane Holderness-Roddam, a breeder and former Olympic 3-day eventer, says the government's decision is a mistake.

"I think it's a real pity that we've got the labs, the facilities and the genetic scientists who are capable of producing clones, but they're being prevented by official obstruction and total lack of imagination," Ms Holderness-Roddam told the BBC.

However, Dr Natasha Lane, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA), believes it is not acceptable to clone animals simply to produce a "gold medal".

"Cloning horses or any animal for competition purposes is completely unacceptable," Dr Lane told the BBC.

"It's a trivial purpose and cloning causes pain and suffering to animals because the vast number of embryos die, and those that don't may develop abnormalities and die young. "

The BBC's Christine McGourty
"Experts want to use cloning to help produce the champion horses of the future"

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