Animal cloning

Executive Summary

The cloning of mammals is a relatively new technology that is starting to be applied in the breeding of elite cattle, pigs, goats and sheep, to restore dead pets particularly dogs and cats, to conserve rare breeds and even to resurrect extinct species, as well as in research using a variety of species.  There is little data on which to base a robust opinion, and as with many developing technologies, research studies constantly change the situation.  At present there are serious prenatal losses of cloned embryos and fetuses, especially in cattle and other ruminants.    Losses are still considerable during the neonatal period and serious welfare problems can still occur up to 3‐6 months.  These losses will impact on the welfare of the surrogate dam when there is a high incidence of dystocia and Caesarean section due to ‘Large Offspring Syndrome’ in ruminants.

There is no evidence that food safety is adversely affected, but nevertheless the public are concerned for ethical and other reasons, such as: poor welfare due to a focus on agricultural productivity; a slippery slope towards human cloning; a reduction in genetic diversity, and environmental impact.

In terms of farm animal health and welfare there is a mixture of potential for good and bad depending on the genetic traits selected.  If cloning was undertaken only from animals with a proven sound conformation and good productivity and as a consequence with low levels of disease and good welfare, then cloning could be a force for good, providing the current welfare and efficiency problems associated with cloning are overcome.

On the other hand, if cloning is simply to be used to promote productivity in an already welfare compromised farmed species it could be misused, and an opportunity lost to improve animal health and welfare.

For the other uses of animals, cloning is highly contentious and the harms and benefits need to be carefully weighed, as well as whether the objectives are realistic. However, the use of animals in research e.g. to study the impact of epigenetic variability on phenotype and genotype‐environment interactions would be approved under other legislation. The role of the FVE could be to help evaluate the harms and benefits in Europe from a veterinary viewpoint, including whether the technique of cloning itself is unethical.

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