Cloning by nuclear transplant is completely different from cloning by splitting embryos, and is closely associated with genetic modification of livestock to produce drugs in their milk; in deregulating cloned meat and milk, the European Commission will be approving the sale of highly unethical and unsafe products that are also illegal Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
Milk and meat from ‘cloned’ animals’ offspring could soon be on sale without any labels, the European consumer group BEUC warns . The European Commission (EC) is threatening to force through the proposal backed by the British Government.
It is currently illegal to sell meat or milk from cloned animals or their offspring in the UK; and anyone wishing to do so must apply for permission from the Food Standards Agency.
The EC wants to allow food from the offspring of clones into the market without any labels or the need for approval; but opposes the sale of food from clones themselves. The UK government has no objection to selling meat and milk from clones.
The EC argues that any ban on food from clone offspring risks triggering a trade war with the US, where most cloning is done. It says that as the US does not have an official tracing system to identify which animals are the offspring of clones, it would be impossible to label the resulting food.
There are currently just over 100 offspring of cloned animals on British farms, but this will rise dramatically if the EC gets its way. The proposal is backed by Caroline Spelman, UK Secretary of State for the Department for Enivironment, Food and Rural Affairs.
According to BEUC, an overwhelming majority of EU consumers do not want cloning to be used for food production purposes. Some 84 per cent are concerned about the long-term health and safety impacts.
The first clone offspring calf, Dundee Paradise, was born on a farm in Shropshire, UK, in 2006. She and her siblings have produced more than 100 offspring; though most of these Holstein milking cows are still too young to produce milk.
There is a history of obfuscation over the precise nature of ‘cloning’ that began with the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA)  (Is FDA Promoting or Regulating Cloned Meat and Milk? SiS 33). All clones are not equal. Very few people would object to cloning by splitting the embryo at the two-cell or four-cell stage when the separated cells would each develop into an embryo, resulting in twins or quadruplets not dissimilar from those that would naturally arise from time to time.
At issue is cloning by nuclear transplant (NT), an entirely different procedure in which the nucleus of a cell from an adult animal or developing embryo is transferred into a mature egg that had its original nucleus removed. The reconstituted eggs are then activated to develop and the resultant embryos implanted in the uterus of surrogate mothers hormonally treated to receive them and carry them to term. Proponents and regulators alike have created the impression that NT cloning is simply the latest development in a “continuum” of assisted reproduction technologies beginning with artificial insemination, multiple ovulation/embryo transfer, in vitro fertilization, embryo cryopreservation, cloning by splitting embryos, and since the 1980s, by nuclear transfer .
After a notional public consultation, the FDA issued its guidance, which concluded that : “Meat and milk from clones of cattle, swine, and goats, and the offspring of clones of any species traditionally consumed as food, are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals.”
However, the “voluntary moratorium” that was in place on cloned meat and milk remained in place at the behest of the US Department of Agriculture, though the moratorium on meat and milk from offspring of clones was lifted. So, as far as the US is concerned, there is effectively total deregulation on the sale of cloned meat and milk.
Why clone by NT? The procedure allows the rapid duplication of an ‘elite’ animal, in contrast to the conventional lengthy process of reproduction that never produces identical copies in any case. Unfortunately, duplication by NT is far from identical.
First, cells accumulate mutations in the course of development so each cell in an organism has the potential to have a genome (totality of genetic material in the nucleus) that’s different substantially from the original germline genome the organism inherited from its parents, as well as to be different from other cells in the organism  (Death Sentence on Cloning, SiS 19). The recent practice of cloning from cultured cells (both stem cells and other types of cells) makes it even less likely to achieve identical copies  (Unacceptable Death Rates End Cloning Trials in New Zealand, SiS 50), as cultured cells accumulate both mutations and chromosomal abnormalities at much higher rates. Mutations and chromosomal abnormalities in the donor nuclei may account for the high failure rates of cloned embryos, quite apart from the generally recognized errors/failures of ‘reprogrammable’ initiated by the egg cytoplasm, which removes epigenetic marks in the DNA of the donor nucleus and resets it to the ‘totipotent state’, that has the ability to give rise to all cells in the developing embryo.
Second, a substantial part of the individual animal’s genetic inheritance is in the mitochondria (little powerhouses of the cell), which is not transferred with the nucleus, but is contributed by the recipient egg. This potentially introduces incompatibility between mitochondrial and nuclear genetic material that may also contribute to the high rates of abnormalities and deaths among clones. Again, this aspect has not been considered or investigated by proponents and practitioners. NT is therefore not strictly cloning; and it is illegal to claim it as such for commercial release  (‘Cloned’ Food Animals Not True Clones, SiS 48).
Another major reason for NT cloning is to facilitate the creation of genetically modified (GM) animals for the food and especially pharmaceutical industries, a dream that has motivated NT cloning in the first place (see Chapter 11 in  Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare, ISIS publication). And indeed, the close association between NT cloning and GM continues   (Cloned BSE-Free Cows, Not Safe Nor Proper Science. SiS 33). The ability to clone a genetically modified animal by NT greatly speeds up the production of an ‘elite herd’ that would guarantee an inexhaustible supply of “super milk”, or “super drugs” in its milk, turning the animals into living pharmaceutical factories. Unfortunately, that dream soon turned into a nightmare of deaths and “gallery of horrors” in deformed animals that led Ian Wilmut, the pioneer who created the first NT cloned sheep, Dolly, to pass the death sentence on NT animal cloning after 6 years ; the company involved, PPL Therapeutics, collapsed at the same time  (Animal Pharm Folds, SiS 19).
However, the New Zealand Government agency AgResearch has continued with the endeavour. But it too, announced an ‘end’ to cloning trials in February 2011 from “unacceptable death rates” . The NT technology has hardly improved since 2003 when Wilmut abandoned it.
AgResearch said it will continue to develop transgenic animals using  “new technology” with embryonic stem cells “unlikely to cause the same death rates as cloning” in order to produce valuable pharmaceuticals. Continuing with developing GM animals almost certainly means continuing with NT cloning, particularly as new ways of turning ordinary cells into stem cells seem to promise better and better cells that need only minimum reprogramming to the totipotent state .
Deregulation effectively condones the practice of NT cloning that the vast majority of the public and scientists find unacceptable in the animal suffering caused. Worse, it is clear that the practice is continuing solely in the hope of creating herds of transgenic animals, another procedure that’s also highly inefficient as well as dangerous. Hence NT cloning effectively combines the harmful consequences of both NT and GM on animal welfare and health hazards to consumers. And deregulating cloning may mean deregulating GM at the same time.
The potential source of health hazards from NT cloning that has been investigated is the failure of ‘epigenetic reprogramming’, in which the egg cytoplasm initiates a series of processes to erase epigenetic marks on the DNA and to make the egg ‘totipotent’, in being able to give rise to all the cells in the developing embryo. A decade of investigation has revealed a handful of genes required for totipotency, but yielded no major insight into how abnormalities and deaths of clones could be avoided . Even clones that survive to adulthood, such as Dolly, suffer from more subtle defects that cause illnesses and premature deaths later in life . The heritability of epigenetic/reprogramming defects of clones has yet to be studied. So it is rather astonishing for the USDA  and the European Commission to assume meat and milk from offpring of clones are safe for the food market.
The other defects arising from mutations and chromosomal rearrangements in somatic cells and cultured cells are uncontrollable and unpredictable, as are those due to mismatch between mitochondrial and nuclear genomes (see above). These have not been investigated at all.
The health and environmental hazards of GM animals are legion, as detailed in our submission to US FDA on the safety of foods derived from transgenic animals  (GM Food Animals Coming, SiS 32). Foods derived from GM animals are likely to be contaminated by potent vaccines, immune regulators and growth hormones as well as nucleic acids, viruses, and bacteria that have the potential to create pathogens and to trigger cancer. Among the categories of transgenic animals are those with “non-heritable” modifications that could well be deregulated or not considered transgenic animals. Meat and milk from these transgenic animals are even more hazardous than those with heritable modifications. What guarantee can the EC and the UK Government provide to ensure that transgenic meat and milk will not be sold in the market as unregulated clone offspring produce? For example, a clone of a GM animal that has failed to express the required drug could be regarded as a simple clone and non-GM. So unwittingly, the public could be eating failed transgenic experimental animals.
The deregulation of meat and milk from clone offspring should be strenuously opposed for being highly unethical and unsafe. Worst of all, in case of harm, it would be impossible to identify the source, provide appropriate remedy, and seek proper redress.
Article first published 16/03/11
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