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Last Updated: Friday, 10 August 2007, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Down on animal pharm
Fiona Roberts
Producer, BBC Radio Science Unit

Second Chance
Commercial cloning could be on the rise in the US
Since the birth of Dolly the sheep 11 years ago, cloning technologies for animals have been getting better and better.

But are we ready to clone our pets or eat meat or other products from cloned livestock or their offspring? Well, the BBC Radio 4 series Peas in a Pod has taken a look at the current state of animal cloning and where it might be heading.

Animals are already being cloned commercially.

It's on a small scale and mostly for producing copies of individual animals of very high value - whether emotional or commercial.

But a ruling by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at the end of this year could change that.

If the ruling, as expected, allows animal products from clones and their offspring to enter the human food chain then agricultural cloning is set to take off.

Growing clientele

Finding out exactly who is doing what and where in the world of cloning is not easy.

The sensitive nature of the science and the extreme ethical views of some have made cloning, like genetic engineering, a highly controversial technology.

While Scotland, once home to Dolly the sheep, may once have been the heart of cloning science, it's now clear that the centre of activity has moved to Texas where a combination of academic and commercial laboratories are providing a service for a growing number of clients.

ViaGen, a commercial cloning company in Austin, Texas, is now charging $15,000 (7,500) to clone a bull and $3,000 (1,500) for a pig.

Dolly the sheep

Its customers are the owners of elite breeding stock - not animals for slaughter - and the company believes it has now improved the cloning technology to a point that makes it commercially viable for agricultural animals.

Blake Russell, vice president of sales and business development at the company, said: "The technology is currently in a rapid state of development and will meet the needs of large agricultural numbers around the world very, very soon."

Another commercial use of cloning being pioneered at Texas A and M University is cloning endangered and domestic animals.

They created the first cloned domestic cat, Copy Cat or CC, and the first successful cloning of a white-tailed deer.

Ahead of the game

The actual cloning process involves taking the nuclear genetic material out of a skin cell of the animal you wish to clone, implanting it into an egg that has had its own genetic material removed and using an electrical impulse to start the development of a whole new genetically identical embryo.

But in the same way that genetic engineering was a technology ahead of its regulatory framework, the same is true of cloning.

CC
There is nothing different about clones than there is any animal which is out there in the regular population
Charles Long, creator of CC from Texas A and M University

The omission of cloned livestock from the food chain is voluntary, and almost definitely not being observed by everyone.

In the US, the FDA has carried out a protracted risk assessment with a public consultation to decide whether or not products from cloned animals or from the progeny of cloned animals should enter the human food chain.

They will make their decision by the end of the year. But most cloning organisations and livestock breeders are confident their decision will give the go ahead for unlabelled cloned food products to fill US supermarket shelves.

Charles Long, creator of CC from Texas A & M University, says: "There is nothing different about clones than there is any animal which is out there in the regular population.

"Therefore the FDA can really only come to one decision, which is to allow cloned animals to go into the food chain without labelling."

Case-by-case

The situation in the UK and Europe is less clear. Clones or products from clones are classed as novel foods, alongside genetically modified organisms, with each example being looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Not that there are many examples - yet.

The one case that hit the headlines in the UK last year was that of a young heifer, Dundee Paradise, who is the daughter of a cloned dairy bull.

A debate raged as to whether her milk should be allowed to enter the normal supply chain.

She's still a little way off producing milk, and the Food Standards Agency is currently in discussions with the EC and hopes to have definitive regulations and rules on clones very soon.

It looks like Europe and the UK will not follow the example of the US, Brazil and China, who are forging ahead with cloning animals for the commercial market, but will continue to class clones and the products from the offspring of cloned animals as novel foods.

How this then affects international trade remains to be seen.


SEE ALSO
A decade on from Dolly
23 Feb 07 |  Science/Nature
US could approve clones as food
10 Jul 07 |  Science/Nature
EU to look at cloned meat safety
08 Mar 07 |  Science/Nature
US body backs sale of cloned food
28 Dec 06 |  Americas

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