Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Milk from clones: a storm in a tea-cup?

The latest tirade on "clone farm's milk" is yet another example of poor science understanding. Whilst there may be valid concerns about the animal welfare of cloned animals and some limited research suggesting these animals do not live as long as 'normal' animals this story has been over-sold. 

The milk that has been on sale in the UK is alleged to have come from a farmer who imported the embryo of a cloned cow from abroad. The cow that the milk was taken from was not in fact the animal derived from that cloned embryo but the offspring of a clone. In effect the clone was being used as a 'prize bull' to produce animals that yielded large quantities of milk.

This is simply a form of selective breeding and is simply what farmer's have already been doing for centuries. That is choosing animals with high yields and selectively breeding them to produce optimum animals. The farmer in question in this story decided to by-pass this process and purchase the embryo from abroad.

The outrage and disgust at the idea that we might be drinking cloned milk suggests a lack of knowledge of the scientific process involved. The public might recoil at the idea but there is absolutely no evidence to date that the offspring of cloned animals will produce milk that may harm public health.

In an analogy we could argue that we should not drink milk from a cow that has been sired by artificial insemination. This is a common practice in farming and there are no legislation against this process. However it is a similar process in that the sperm is taken from a 'prize bull' and this is used artificially to produce an embryo inside the womb.

The only difference with the cloning procedure is that the sperm from the 'prize bull' is used to fertilise an egg which has been stripped of it's DNA content and that this embryo is produced in a lab. The rest is the same: a valuable cow producing large quantities of milk.

Currently milk derived from a clone in this way is described as a novel food stuff and must be regulated by the FSA however is this necessary? I would suggest that a cautionary approach is important but as and when new research emerges we perhaps need to look again at this issue.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely, what a terrifying comment on the public understanding of science! Would these 'worried' people refuse to drink milk from a cow with an identical twin? Cloning is no more sinister than that! The phrase "genetic engineering" is nonsense too. Farming is by definition the selection of genes in plants and animals. Without it we wouldn't be drinking milk at all. I can't see the average Londoner chasing down an Auroch!