Animal cloning: cui bono?

Marvin asks:

So what if it’s safe? Do we need to clone beef cattle, dairy cattle, swine and chickens? It’s not like I’m starving, and I’m not sure how this helps people who are starving. Who benefits from cloning livestock? This seems to be yet another great example of what I’ll call “technologism:” If we can do it; we must. We just can’t seem to help ourselves.

Not to underestimate the human impetus toward “if it can be done, it will be done,” I think there are very concrete interests at stake here. This summary provides some helpful information:

For farmers whose livelihoods depend on selling high-quality meat and dairy products, cloning can offer a tremendous advantage. It gives them the ability to preserve and extend proven, superior genetics. They can select and propagate the best animals–beef cattle that are fast-growing, have lean but tender meat, and are disease-resistant; dairy cows and goats that give lots of milk; and sheep that produce high-quality wool. Through cloning, it would be possible to predict the characteristics of each animal, rather than taking the chance that sexual reproduction and its gene reshuffling provide.

What’s at issue here, it seems to me, is the continuing institutional “commodification” of animals. Less and less are farm animals regarded as beings with their own natures that merit respect. Rather, they’re products that can be engineered to lower costs, suit consumer preferences, and generally behave less like organisms and more like machines. Needless to say, the chief beneficiaries are likely to be big agriculture interests who can afford cloned animals, and the biotech firms who hold the patents to the cloning technology.

The article linked above tries to make the case for some benefits accruing to the animals from cloning:

Cloning has the potential to improve the welfare of farm animals by eliminating pain and suffering from disease. “From time to time, in nature, you find a naturally disease-resistant animal,” says Rudenko. “You can expand that genome through cloning, and then breed that resistance into the overall population and help eliminate major diseases in livestock.”

Cloning can reduce the number of unwanted animals, such as veal calves, says Ray Page, chief scientific officer and biomedical engineer at Cyagra, a livestock cloning company. Veal calves are commonly surplus male offspring from dairy cows. Since the males don’t produce milk, they are not as useful to the dairy industry and are turned into veal calves. Cloning can ensure the creation of more female offspring for dairy production.

Of course, what this article omits is that a big part of the reason that farm animals are so prone to disease is that they are kept in unnatural and barbaric conditions, which is why our meat is pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. And it’s dubious, to say the least, to suggest that the demand for veal wouldn’t ensure that the supply of calves is maintained.

It ends up looking like cloning is at best a techno-fix band-aid on the already inhumane conditions that farm animals are subjected to. This is all leaving aside the harm that the cloning process itself inflicts on animals: both the extraction of eggs and the health problems that cloned animals, at least in the early stages, were prone to. The most likely result, I’d guess, will be to reinforce a purely instrumental view of animal life and to increase the profits of those who see animals as little more than meat machines.

One thought on “Animal cloning: cui bono?

  1. Pingback: Cloning « About Animals

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