The revelation that meat from the bulls Dundee Paratrooper and Parable has been eaten by people created a media storm this week. It happened because the animals were the offspring of the cloned product Vandyk-K Integ Paradise 2, a Holstein cow in Wisconsin. Particular outrage has been expressed by Compassion in World Farming, the RSPCA and the Soil Association. They have said that the cloning process causes animals to suffer, and have raised food safety concerns. The Food Standards Agency is the main regulator; it has pointed out that milk and meat from clones and their progeny is a ‘novel food’ and requires authorisation from them before it can be marketed. They say that this was never sought.
I have no doubt that the milk and meat from these animals was safe to consume. Even if they had been clones, which they were not, this would have been so. The cloning process adds no genetic information. Its purpose is to produce carbon copies of the single parent, which in this case was of the highest quality. But it is safe to say that the experience of those who unknowingly ate the meat will not be repeated any time soon. The Food Standards Agency will close the regulatory loophole with speed. The farmer in Nairn who bought the bulls has been left with 96 heifer yearlings sired by them. Their value is probably zero.
Clones are common in the natural world. They are the products of reproduction without sex. Most species, including roses, dandelions and seaweeds, propagate themselves this way. The biggest and oldest living organisms in the world are the very large clumps of bracken in northern European countries. They are giant clones. Many species propagated by cloning are eaten, such as potatoes, or are used in the preparation of processed food and drink, like the yeasts used by bakers, wine makers and brewers. So from a biologist’s point of view the principle of cloning is validated by nature.
Just now we have a wider variety of food available at lower prices and of higher quality than ever before. But the row about the inadvertent consumption of two beef cattle this week came close on radio and television in rank order of presentation to the floods in Pakistan which have left thousands – whose diet was poor to start with – without any food at all. That’s the real scandal.