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Agriculture will need to gain public acceptance of cloning
Guest Opinion
A group of scientists meeting in Scotland planned to engage the public in discussion of cloning and biomedical ethics. Instead, they decided to organize a film festival about cloning, including such movie hits as the cult film “Blade Runner,” the Michael Keaton comedy “Multiplicity” and “The Boys from Brazil,” a 1978 movie about cloning another Hitler.

There are more than a dozen major Hollywood movies about cloning, ranging from sci-fi thrillers to comedies. The Scottish scientists gambled on attracting the public by screening the popular movies and then trying to overcome the misconceptions of cloning that people see in these same movies. In this case, the topic was human cloning and discussions of the valid ethical and scientific questions surrounding it.

Agriculture does not have nearly as daunting a task in educating the public about livestock cloning. There’s really no comparison. Yet, agriculture will have to gain public understanding and acceptance for cloned animals, particularly as their progeny enter the food supply sometime in the future.

At this time, support for cloning is soft. In a poll by the International Food Information Council, only 34 percent of consumers stated they would buy foods produced through cloning if food safety is assured by the Food and Drug Administration.

Although the National Academy of Sciences has endorsed the safety of cloned animals in the food supply, the industry is participating in a voluntary FDA moratorium while the matter is under review. An FDA decision is expected soon.

Cloning is one of several assisted reproductive technologies used in agriculture, including artificial insemination and embryo transfer. In reality, a clone is an identical twin, delayed in time.

“Cloning is a way to advance genetic progress more rapidly, but the goal is to improve the nutritiousness, healthfulness and safety of foods,” said Dr. Barbara Glenn, director of animal biotechnology for the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

The United States already has the world’s safest food supply, but livestock cloning can make it even safer by allowing farmers and ranchers to propagate animals that are more resistant to disease. Cloning, for example, may make it possible to rapidly breed a BSE-proof herd of cattle from a single animal.

“There are many consumer benefits to livestock cloning. First of all, we can have healthier foods, healthier animals, healthier human beings and finally a healthier environment,” added Dr. Glenn.

Cloning can also be used to protect and preserve endangered species. In China, cloned panda cells are being kept on reserve should the species become more threatened by extinction.

In Australia, researchers are going a step further by trying to clone an animal already believed extinct, the Tasmanian tiger. They are trying to clone a tiger by using DNA obtained from a cub preserved in 1866.

Animal cloning has been carefully studied for decades, and the results have clearly established its benefits and safety. In the United States, more than 10 federal laws ensure public health and safety as animal cloning evolves. Chances are that Hollywood filmmakers would not find the facts about livestock cloning very appealing for the movie screen.

Stewart Truelsen is a regular contributor to the Focus on Agriculture series distributed by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Published in the November 23, 2005 issue of Farm World.

11/23/2005