Scottish-born Dolly the Sheep may have the honor of being the first cloned animal, but Scotland and the rest of the European Union nations have just passed a measure that bans the cloning of farm animals in the future.
The European Parliament voted yesterday—by a large margin—to outlaw the sale of cloned livestock. The ban includes the offspring of cloned animals and any products that may come from an animal that is cloned.
A previous directive by the European Commission that was proposed two years ago would have banned only five cloned species—horses, goats, cattle, pigs, and sheep. The law that passed this week, however, applies to all farm animals. Does this mean I can't go through with my plans for an Orphan Black-themed petting zoo?
Cloning, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute, is done through a number of different processes, all of which have the same end result: to produce genetically identical copies of a biological original. Dolly, for example, was cloned from an adult somatic cell using the process of nuclear transfer. She is said to have three mothers: one provided the egg, one provided the DNA, and one carried her. But she is genetically identical to the DNA-donator.
The US and China do not have similar bans of cloning in place. The FDA, in fact, has said that there is no significant difference between clones and animals that were born the old-fashioned way. When asked whether it is safe to eat food from clones, the FDA says, "Yes. Food from cattle, swine, and goat clones is as safe to eat as food from any other cattle, swine, or goat."
Furthermore, the FDA says cloned meat is of "more uniform quality" than meat from retro-produced animals. They also say "There are no complications that are unique to cloning."
But the European Union is not convinced.
Animal-welfare concerns trumped any other advantages of cloning for the Europeans. "The technique of cloning is not fully mature, and in fact, no further progress has been made with it. The mortality rate remains equally high. Many of the animals which are born alive die in the first few weeks, and they die painfully. Should we allow that?" argued the European Union's environment committee co-rapporteur, Renate Sommer.
The ban does not include cloning for research purposes. Exceptions can also be made for species that are endangered.
In the US, consumers are a tad suspicious of cloning, but are largely willing to accept it. A web-based survey administered by Knowledge Networks in 2011 found that consumers in the US "do not differentiate much between products from cloned animals and products from non-cloned animals." However, Americans have seen a lot of movies and "are concerned that animal cloning is an unnatural process and that it will lead to human cloning."
Europeans are much more suspicious of the process of making biological copies of animals. In fact, there is currently no agricultural cloning going on in member nations of the EU. Even the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, where Dolly was cloned, no longer clones animals.
Representatives from the European Parliament will now negotiate with the European Council on a final version of the regulation.
We all said goodbye to Dolly in 2003, when she died of progressive lung disease and severe arthritis at the age of only 6—half the life-expectancy of similar sheep. But we can say hello to her American and Chinese cousins.