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  var SA_Message=”zSACategory=61734″; var PStax = 61734;  Cloned Bull
The bum rap on cloned food.
By William Saletan
Updated Saturday, Jan. 6, 2007, at 1:24 AM ET

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? People have puzzled over that question for at least 2,000 years. In the eternal cycle of natural reproduction, they saw no answer. But the cycle turns out not to be eternal. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration tentatively approved the use of cloned animals to make food. Natural reproduction is giving way to artificial reproduction. And with the new era comes a new question: Which came first, the steer or the steak?

Case in point: Elvis. He’s a 19-month-old Angus calf. You can view him on the Web site of ViaGen, a cloning company. In a recent slide presentation from the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the caption below his photo reads, “Elvis was cloned from a side of Prime Yield Grade 1 beef.”

No joke: The calf came from the beef. And Elvis is no freak show. He’s a business plan. “Some of your animals have more income potential than others,” ViaGen reminds farmers. “Our services help you identify, preserve, and reproduce the genetics of those animals.” If a steer is already dead, no problem. In fact, the best way to judge its steakworthiness is to cut it open and hang it on a hook. That’s what happened to the original incarnation of Elvis. “Biopsy samples should be collected from your animal as soon as possible,” ViaGen advises. If you like that side of beef and want another just like it, we can grow it for you.

A steer from a steak from a steer. Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has re-entered the building.

The political fight over animal cloning is just beginning. It’s a lot like the fight over human cloning, except that the roles are reversed. Right-wing groups and Republican senators fanned fear and ignorance about human cloning; left-wing groups and Democratic senators are fanning fear and ignorance about animal cloning. Moderates on both sides get trampled. So do principles. The same liberals who demand stem-cell research using human embryos and who blasted the FDA for delaying approval of emergency contraception now accuse the FDA of recklessly approving cloned food.

The left-wingers want the FDA, Congress, and President Bush to keep clones off the market. Their case, laid out in a petition to the FDA, is a mess of anecdotes, obsolete data, speculation, and ideology. Like right-wingers in the human cloning debate, they expect the government to honor even their “religious” objections. But their strongest argument is that cloned food is unsafe, since cloning, unlike fertilization, often fails to reprogram genes for normal embryonic development.

It’s a sensible worry, but the facts don’t bear it out. The FDA’s review, based on exhaustive and fully disclosed analysis of scientific journal articles, health records, blood samples, and meat and milk composition, found no “food consumption risks or subtle hazards in healthy clones of cattle, swine, or goats.” The agency concluded that “food from the sexually reproduced offspring of clones is as safe as food that we eat every day.”

Why don’t reprogramming errors taint your food? Because if they’re serious, they kill the animal before it’s old enough to be milked or eaten, or they cause defects that make the animal flunk federal food safety inspections. They don’t carry over to a clone’s offspring, since fertilization, like rebooting, cleans up programming errors. And the offspring are where the milk and meat will come from. ViaGen charges $15,000 to clone a steer. You don’t butcher a $15,000 clone. You use it for breeding.

Critics say cloning often causes health problems for cloned animals and their surrogate mothers. That’s true, but less so in some species, and the rate of complications is falling as the technology improves. Opponents of cloning also suggest we should ban it because it’s unethical “to alter the essential nature of animals.” Essential nature? We’ve been breeding animals for 15,000 years. We’ve been artificially inseminating them for nearly 700 years. Most apples, bananas, grapes, peaches, and potatoes are clones, and a lot of meat sold today was produced through in vitro fertilization, embryo transfer, or embryo splitting.

The silliest rap on cloning is that it offers “no consumer benefits.” That’s insane. Cloning means total genome control. It bypasses the uncertainties of breeding. It also improves breeding, since five clones of your best bull or cow produce five times as much sperm or eggs. Theoretically, you can target any trait for cloning: more muscle, less fat, more omega-3 acids. You can even help the environment by cloning animals that eat grass instead of grain.

In principle—with apologies to Bill Clinton—there’s nothing wrong with biotechnology that can’t be cured by what’s right with biotechnology. Yes, poorly cultivated clones may require antibiotics. But efficient cloning can reduce the use of antibiotics, not to mention growth hormones, by spreading healthier genes. Yes, factory farming can transmit mad cow disease. But guess what blocked mad cow disease in a study released this week? A combination of genetic engineering and cloning.

Cloning can be humane, too. Farmers don’t want their animals to get sick. Instead of calves that are born big, they’d rather get calves that are born small—so their mothers can deliver them easily—and grow quickly thereafter. Dairy farmers prefer female calves to males, which get slaughtered for veal. Cloning could address all three problems. Biotechnology might even help us grow meat without growing and killing whole animals.

Messing with nature at this level is never simple. It requires ongoing debate, monitoring, and regulation. But we’re not even getting that debate. Instead, opponents are relying, as they have in the human cloning debate, on the sheer fact that cloning freaks people out. To reinforce this revulsion and intimidate regulators, politicians, and food producers, they constantly emphasize surveys showing that Americans are uncomfortable with cloned food, think it’s unsafe, and won’t buy it. As though polls settled the matter. As though the FDA should put science before politics, but only when it suits liberals.

Yes, we’re scared of cloned food. But according to the same polls, most of us have heard little about animal biotechnology, don’t know biotech food is already in supermarkets, and, against all reason, are more afraid of cloning animals than of genetically engineering them. Don’t be cowed. Question your fears. That’s the difference between us and the animals.

A version of this piece appears in the Washington Post Outlook section.

William Saletan is Slate‘s national correspondent and author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War.

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Copyright 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC


Here is a science article I read in Time Magazine.  I wanted to throw in this article for those of you who might be interested in Genetics, since it seems to be at the tip of our tongues these days with the passage of the Stem Cell initiative in
Missouri.  Here at Peaceful Tectonics we love that there is so much potential in genetics and so many ethical dilemmas!!! 

The Iceland Experiment

Time Magazine

Sunday, Feb. 12, 2006

How a Tiny Island Nation Captured the Lead in the Genetic Revolution

Dr. Kari Stefansson can trace his ancestry back 1,100 years. That’s almost unheard of in the U.S., but in his native Iceland, where genealogy is a national obsession, it hardly raises an eyebrow. The island nation is a genetic anomaly: settled by a few Norsemen and Celts in the 9th century A.D. and relatively free of later immigration, it is among the most genetically homogeneous countries on earth. And in the late 1990s, when scientists were racing to map the human genome, Stefansson realized that Iceland’s genetic isolation and unrivaled genealogical records made it a potential gold mine for isolating genes.Thus began Iceland’s great genetic experiment, an attempt to mine the gene pool of an entire country in search of the root causes of–and potential cures for–some of the world’s worst diseases. And after years of controversy, dashed hopes and burst stock bubbles, the effort is finally paying off. Over the past decade, deCODE Genetics, the company Stefansson co-founded in his home city of Reykjavik, has discovered more than a dozen genes linked to diseases ranging from stroke to schizophrenia. Last month, deCODE announced that it had found a gene that boosts the risk of Type 2 diabetes. And within a few weeks, the company will start the final phase of trials for a drug based on a newly identified heart-attack gene that appears to be especially dangerous in African Americans. “I’m very enthusiastic,” says Dr. Francis Collins of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and leader of the Human Genome Project. “What deCODE is doing is clearly exciting, and I congratulate them.”In principle, their method is straightforward: to find a disease-related gene, find someone with the disease, then see how his or her DNA differs from the DNA of healthy people. In practice, however, individual genes rarely cause illness on their own; instead, they tend to make people more susceptible. And in places with genetically mixed populations, the complex interaction among genes makes it hard to find the risky ones. But in Iceland, with its uniform population and genealogies that show how everyone is related, risky genes tend to stand out. The country’s meticulous medical records provide even more data.Ingenious as it was, Stefansson’s plan quickly ran into problems. In order to build a database of genomes, deCODE needed blood samples from as many Icelanders as possible, as well as access to their health records. Parliament granted permission to tap into those records, along with an exclusive license to assemble, maintain and market the resulting data. Thousands of citizens donated blood, and many bought shares in deCODE as well. But those shares, which rose to a high of $65 in a frenzied run-up in 1999 and 2000, plunged to as low as $2 in the collapse of the dotcom bubble. They’re around $9 today–and deCODE still hasn’t turned a profit. Investors lost a lot of money, and the firm was forced to lay off scores of employees.Then in 1998 the
U.S.firm Hoffmann–La Roche agreed to pay $200 million for the right to develop drugs based on some of deCODE’s data. The idea that a foreign company might profit from their personal information made many Icelanders balk. A woman named Ragnhildur Gudmundsdottir sued to keep her deceased father’s medical records from going into the deCODE-run database, citing a right to privacy, and in 2003
Iceland’s supreme court ruled in her favor.
Having lost its guaranteed access to every citizen’s records, deCODE had to change tactics and approach people one by one. In return, the company promised that Icelanders will get any drug Hoffmann–La Roche develops out of the project for free until the patents run out. According to Stefansson, most have agreed to cooperate. “Ten percent of people have questions about the project,” says Asmundur Johannsson, a Reykjavik resident. “Ninety percent approve of deCODE, and I am one of them.”Thanks to people like Johannsson, a huge freezer in the basement of deCODE’s gleaming, modern Reykjavík headquarters now holds blood samples from about 100,000 individuals, roughly half of Iceland’s adult population. Using those samples, scientists at the company were able to zero in on their new anti-heart-attack compound. It’s based on a gene known as LTA4H, first seen in mice, which governs the production of an enzyme called leukotriene A4 hydrolase. The enzyme plays a role in inflammation, a key factor in heart disease, and also encourages the buildup of cholesterol on blood-vessel walls.And sure enough, Icelanders with a particular variant of the LTA4H gene turn out to be 40% more likely than average to have heart attacks. Looking outside the country, deCODE scientists found the variant gene in other populations–and discovered that in African Americans the increased risk is not 40% but a whopping 250%. That suggests the company’s prospective drug–invented by Bayer and licensed by deCODE–could have a correspondingly large lifesaving effect, although even if it works, it could be several years before it reaches the U.S. market. Some critics are worried that insurers and employers might avoid anyone bearing the bad gene, making discrimination even worse than it already is. Stefansson scoffs at that notion: “You guys never needed genetics to discriminate against African Americans,” he says. “You’ve done that completely unassisted by genetic discoveries.”The idea of combing through populations for disease genes isn’t unique to deCODE.
Britain’s UK Biobank, for example, will follow 500,000 volunteers for decades, trying to correlate genes, lifestyle and disease. And two initiatives being put together by the U.S. National Institutes of Health will look for nearly 20 diseases in up to 40,000 people. But with its long head start and
Iceland’s genetic advantages, deCODE could be hard to catch. So far the company has isolated 15 gene variants for 12 diseases, including stroke, schizophrenia, osteoarthritis and, most recently, diabetes. In addition to the heart-attack drug, it has medications in the pipeline for preventing asthma and atherosclerosis. Even when no drug is available, knowing you have a disease gene can be invaluable. “What it tells you,” says Stefansson, “is whether you are at risk, and it gives you the opportunity to respond. This is liberating.”

With reporting by Reported by Helen Gibson / Reykjavik, Alice Park /
New York


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