Jewish World Review
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) Quietly, cloned animals are being born and traded at sky-high prices in anticipation of government guidelines allowing their offspring into the food chain, expected sometime next year.
On Sept. 20, a cow replicated identically from Circle A Forever Lady 718, one of the most prodigious herd producing cows ever, was auctioned for $170,000 in Iberia, Mo., according to its creator, Austin-based ViaGen Inc.
The Texas biotech firm's disclosure Friday coincided with the release of findings by the Food and Drug Administration in advance of an advisory meeting Tuesday that food products made from animal clones and their offspring are likely to be as safe as food made from ordinary livestock.
Although some in Texas cattle circles have reservations about whether cloning is yet commercially practical, others say they are ready to consider the technique to enhance their breed stock,
"Look at it this way. It's like duplicating Michael Jordan until you have five Michael Jordans on a team," said Donald Brown, who runs the cattle breeding program at his family's Throckmorton ranch. "Cloning takes breeding to a whole new level."
Lisa Dryer of Biotechnology Industry Organization, a Washington lobbying group, said she has heard estimates of as many as 300 cloned bulls inexistence.
ViaGen President Scott Davis said "thousands and thousands" of units of frozen semen from hundreds of cloned bulls are being stockpiled around the country, ready for sale to cattle breeders when the new FDA guidelines are issued.
Davis said he expects that the FDA guidelines will be announced in the middle or late 2004. The industry is currently following a voluntary moratorium on introducing cloned animals or their offspring into the national food supply.
ViaGen is working with Smithfield Foods, the world's biggest pork producer, to use cloning to create more productive and faster growing hogs. Even if the savings is a dollar or less per pig, "multiply that by 10million," he said.
Put into proper perspective, Davis said, the current cost of cloning is not that high - and it'll come down.
"We've gone from impossible to $19,000 in 10 years," said Davis, who predicted the price will drop to several thousand dollars in the next few years.
There has been skepticism in some cattle circles that problems remain with cloning, noting findings that some cloned animals develop health problems and may be short-lived.
"A lot of those cloned animals have not been as high performance as the animals they've been cloned from," said Ernie Davis, professor of livestock marketing at Texas A&M University, and no relation to the ViaGen executive. "I think the jury is still out on cloning."
While some cloned animals have immature lungs and occasionally heart defects, most that go to term and survive the first week after birth do not have obvious abnormalities, said Duane Kraemer, a veterinary professor at A&M who has researched cloning since 1975.
Cloning remains difficult to pull off, he said.
"It still takes about 100 nuclear transfers to produce one live offspring," Kraemer said. Some species are easier than others, and the experience of the laboratory is a factor in cloning success. No one has yet cloned a chicken, he noted.
While no slaughterhouse would pay $19,000 - the estimated cost for a cloned calf - it is a relative bargain to replicate an elite bull that might fetch $100,000 or more in auction. And well-regarded bulls have been know to produce 60,000 semen units, or straws, at $15 apiece annually.
"All cloning is a way to accelerate the rate of genetic progress," said ViaGen's Davis. "It's basically just another breeding tool in the animal breeder's tool kit."
But are cattle raisers interested?
"Yes, for seed stock," said Brown, whose father was part of group that paid a record $180,000 in Montana this year for a red Angus bull named Major League.
"The breeding stock industry is the only place that could afford to buy them," he said.
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