By Gowri Koneswaran
In a single year in the United States, 10 billion land animals are raised and killed for meat, eggs, and milk—1 million slaughtered every hour. As if those staggering statistics aren’t overwhelming enough, countless more farm animals may soon suffer from government-sanctioned cloning. Late last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its draft risk assessment on the safety of animal cloning and attested to the safety of consuming meat and milk from cloned adult cattle, pigs, goats, and their offspring.
However, a number of consumer advocacy organizations have called into question FDA’s review of limited data—including unpublished data from two cloning companies—as well as the agency’s analysis. Indeed, the Center for Food Safety charges that FDA found no peer-reviewed studies on meat from cloned cattle, milk or meat from the offspring of cloned cows, meat from cloned pigs or their offspring, nor meat or milk from cloned goats or their offspring. Additionally, while FDA claims to have addressed concerns regarding animal health, health data was absent from many of the studies it reviewed, with researchers simply concluding that cloned animals “appeared healthy.”
In fact, animals used in cloning research suffer from unusually high rates of birth defects, disabilities, and premature death. Recent cloning research reveals high failure rates and abnormalities, problems widely acknowledged by scientists in the field and indicative of poor animal welfare. The list of problems from which cloned animals can suffer is extensive including: enlarged tongues, malformed faces, intestinal blockages, diabetes, shortened tendons, deformed feet, weakened immune systems, dysfunctional hearts, brains, livers, and kidneys, respiratory distress and circulatory problems.
A 2003 review of cloning procedures in cattle found that less than 5 percent of all cloned embryos transferred into recipient cows survived. The majority of the 95 percent who did not survive died at various stages of development from a predictable pattern of placental and fetal abnormalities.
A 2005 review identified the challenges with cloning farm animals and confirmed there has been no noticeable increase in efficiency. That same year, an FDA representative stated that cloned animals were more likely to suffer birth defects and health problems when very young, demonstrating these problems have not been resolved.
Cloning also threatens the welfare of surrogate mothers. These animals suffer from reduced welfare from fetal overgrowth, repeated surgeries and injections, and pregnancy complications that have resulted in death.
Despite these issues, there are currently no U.S. regulations to protect the welfare of farm animals during cloning or genetic engineering agricultural research. This lack of oversight on what can be done to animals in pursuit of increasing agricultural output, coupled with the historical willingness of industrialized agribusiness to sacrifice welfare for productivity, reveal many of the problems with farm animal cloning.
The welfare of billions of farm animals is already abysmal, thanks in part to traditional genetic selection for production traits at the expense of the animals’ health and welfare. Using biotechnology to stress animals even further is adding insult to injury.
Gowri Koneswaran, Esq., Program Manager of Farm Animal Welfare for The Humane Society of the United States http://www.hsus.org.