Information about animal cloning
What is animal cloning?
Animal cloning is a form of animal reproduction that does not require the union of a sperm and an egg. The most common animal cloning technique is referred to as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) where the nucleus of an immature egg cell is replaced with that of a cell from a body part (somatic cell (somatic i.e., relating to the body, especially as distinct from the mind)) such as an ear, leg, nose, etc.
Once nuclear replacement has been completed, the reconstructed embryo is artificially activated and the developing embryo transferred to a surrogate mother, where the foetus develops. In essence, the nuclear DNA of a cell that has been performing as part of an ear, leg or nose, etc., is artificially reprogrammed to be able to develop into a complete animal.
Why are animals cloned?
Conventional breeding and assisted reproduction has been used for some time to improve the value of domestic animals for the benefit of mankind. Such improvements are evident in current food production with high yielding milk cows, as well as more efficient meat-producing cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry.
However, conventional breeding is relatively time consuming and limited in that desirable traits can be difficult to transfer between related breeds or be diminished or diluted out in subsequent generations. Cloning however, allows for the reproduction of genetically identical animals that have all the genetic characteristics of the parent.
What animals have been cloned?
The first cloned animal was a sheep called Dolly, born in 1997 at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland. Since then other animals to be cloned include cattle, deer, pigs, goats, cats and dogs.
Can food from cloned animals be distinguished from that of others?
At present there are no specific tests that can reliably distinguish between food from cloned animals and food from their non-cloned counterparts. However, genetic testing, similar to that used in GMO testing, may be adapted to identify genetically identical individuals.
Is food from cloned animals or their offspring available in Ireland?
Food from cloned animals or their offspring is not on sale in Ireland, or anywhere in the EU at present. The prohibitive cost of producing cloned animals means that only the offspring of cloned animals will be used in food production and which may appear on certain markets within a short number of years.
Is food from cloned animals safe?
The scientific opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is that food from cloned animals or their offspring does not constitute a health risk.
What are the ethical aspects of animal cloning for food supply?
The European Group on Ethics (EGE) has issued an opinion on the ethics of using cloned animals for food production. At present, the EGE does not see convincing arguments to justify the production of food from clones and their offspring. If, in the future, food products derived from cloned animals were to be introduced to the European market, the EGE recommends that a number of requirements are met in relation to food safety, animal health and welfare and traceability. See the full EGE opinion.
How is food from cloned animals regulated in the EU?
While not governed by specific legislation yet, food from cloned animals would likely fall under the novel food Regulation (EC No. 258/97) whereby the process of cloning itself could be considered novel. Whether food from the offspring of cloned animals would be considered novel or not is still under debate.
What is the situation in other countries?
Research into animal cloning has been ongoing for a number of years in almost 40 countries including the USA, China, Japan and Argentina. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA expressed a favourable opinion on January 15th 2008, regarding the use of cloned animals for food production. New Zealand and Australia have also indicated that they have no safety concerns with food from cloned animals or their offspring.
How does cloning differ from genetic modification (GM)?
Animal cloning involves the replication of one animal to produce a genetic replica, and may be useful in propagating particular desirable characteristics or to reproduce rare animals that are difficult to breed.
Genetic modification of animals relates to the manipulation of the animal’s genetic material (DNA) in order to create or enhance a particular desirable trait in the offspring. Existing characteristics of an animal can be improved or new features introduced by manipulating the animals own DNA or by adding genes from another organism.