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Cloning opens door to 'farmyard freaks'

UK Daily Mail | January 11, 2007 
SEAN POULTER

Moves to clone and genetically modify farm livestock have opened the door to the creation of "Farmyard Freaks", experts have warned.

News that the daughter of a US clone cow has been born on a British farm has moved the issue from science fiction to consumer reality.

A former government adviser has painted a nightmarish picture of "zombie" and fast-growing supersize animals.

Professor Ben Mepham, of Nottingham University, said the impact of bio-engineering, creating GM and cloned animals, is huge.

Factory farming techniques, most commonly used with pigs and chicken, often involve keeping animals confined in cramped conditions.

For pigs, who are highly intelligent, these conditions can lead to stress and aggression.

However, GM scientists are actively investigating ways to remove the stress and aggression gene from animals, effectively turning them into complacent zombies.

The professor said it might become technically possible to produce "animal vegetables" - beasts which are "highly prolific and oblivious to their physical and mental status".

However, he argued that while this could reduce the pain and stress of factory farming, this did not mean it should be allowed to develop without question.

The professor of applied bioethics warned that many of the GM experiments on animals have resulted in cruelty, producing mutants or animals which grow so large in the womb that they can only be surgically removed.

He said: "The question of whether humanity should take it upon ourselves to alter animals by GM, involving in many cases mixing the genes of different species - and sometimes those of human origin - is undoubtedly critical for many people."

The professor said that religious groups would see it as "an attempt to usurp God's role" while others would be unhappy about "so fundamentally altering the natural order".

Prof Mepham, is a former member of the Government's Agriculture, Environment Biotechnology Commission.(AEBC)

In 2002, the Commission called on the government to set up a regulatory body to police developments such as GM and clone farming.

However, this was ignored by ministers, who subsequently scrapped the AEBC after it issued a number of reports challenging government policy in areas such as GM crops and food.

The AEBC called for a ban on the creation of "intrinsically objectionable" creatures - such as pigs and cows modified not to feel stress in factory farming conditions.

And it demanded separate farming and labelling of food from these creatures to allow consumers to make a choice about what they are eating.

In 2002, the AEBC said the need to have in place a regulatory regime in place was "urgent" in order to prevent a repeat of the GM crop debacle.

In that case GM plants were already in British shops before there had been sufficient research about the impact on human health or the environment.

Despite these clear warnings, the government's food and farming department, DEFRA, refused to set up any kind of watchdog.

The result is that meat and milk from GM or cloned animals could be arriving on dinner plates in as little as two years.

The executive director of the Food Ethics Council, Dr Tom MacMillan, said: "Cloning raise animal welfare concerns, both for the clones and for their parents.

"It also underlines how far removed industrial food production is from what consumers actually want."

 

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