Five reasons against farm animal cloning

Selling food from cloned animals without special labelling has been confirmed as legal by the European Commission, while at about the same time representatives from USA, New-Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay issued the Buenos Aires Declaration on Livestock Cloning, under the guise that such new technologies would be essential for food security. I beg to differ for the following reasons:

  • It is undemocratic: While 58% of European consumers are against it, in the USA its a whopping 67% that oppose eating meat from cloned animals or their descendants.
  • It is causing immense animal suffering: According to the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), “health and welfare of a significant proportion of clones have been severaly affected, often severely and with a fatal outcome.” Only a small percentage of the embryos actually survive and the remainder develops in odd ways.
  • It is eroding genetic diversity: pretty soon the supermarkets will only want products from exactly the same animals – so they can fit better into the standardized trays.
  • It undermines food security: We dont need more soy-bean and corn guzzling super animals – that basically compete with humans for food/feed. Instead we need robust, vital and self-contained animals that can fend for themselves and live off the vegetation of the drylands and mountainous areas of the world – that would otherwise go unutilized. Only pastoralists keep these types of animals, and they dont lend themselves to cloning,  since much of their behaviour is learned and not genetically inherited, as my friend Saverio Krätli has convincingly shown.
  • It is a waste of resources – that benefits only the scientists and companies that have invested not only in the technology but also substanial amounts in lobbying lawmakers.

What’s a breed?

I have been discussing this topic recently with my friends and learned colleagues in India. It came out that there actually never has been a scientific breed survey in the country and that basically India’s breed classification dates back to colonial times. It was always assumed a priori that only 20% of livestock belongs to a specifc breed and that the rest is non-descript. No wonder then, that new breeds are coming to light now and then. For instance the NGO Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan (LPPS) reported about Malvi camel and Nari cattle sometime ago. Then Sahjeevean, an NGO based in Kutch (Gujarat), managed to get the Banni buffalo breed officially recognized. Now, they have identified another breed, the Kharai camel, that swims to and lives off the mangroves on the coast.
Getting a “new” breed recognised is a major effort, requiring lots of genetical studies to confirm that the breed is indeed unique. But it seems to me this approach needs to be streamlioned, especially if there apparently never was a real breed survey and the existing classification is based on more or less anecdotal evidence.

“Livestock Keepers’ Rights should be addressed”

The much talked about “Access and Benefit-Sharing” is not a concept appropriate for animal genetic resources – this was the conclusion of an International Technical Expert Workshop on Access and Benefit-Sharing for Animal Genetic Resources that took place in Wageningen in the Netherlands at the beginning of December. Organised by the Dutch government as well as Switzerland and Norway, the meeting sought to analyse the implications of the Nagoya Protocol on the exchange of breeds and genes across international borders. Normally this works quite well, as individual animals – that embody the genetic resourcs -are sold to their new owners in other countries at a certain price, and the government only comes in, if there are hygienic restrictions or if does not allow export. But now, if the Nagoya protocol was implemented according to the letter, the procedure would change:  every time there is an international transaction, a contract about Access and Benefit-Sharing would need to be developed.
The experts at the meeting, representing almost all stakeholder groups and more than 30 countries, agreed that exchange of livestock genetic material needed to be as unimpeded as possible. The positive thing was the consensus that “Livestock Keepers’ Rights” needed to be addressed, and that maybe this should be done on the context of an amendment to the Global Plan of Action on Animal Genetic Resources. There was also widespread support for Biocultural Community protocols which were also mentioned in the recommendations. These will be presented to the next meeting of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) that will be held at FAO in Rome in July 2011.

The Nagoya Protocol: who will reap the benefits?

Not another Copenhagen…..the world is breathing a sigh of relief as the 10th meeting of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity successfully agreed on the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing. Although the meeting attracted well over 10,000 participants, very few people have heard about the convention and only a minute few understand the term “Access and Benefit-sharing”. This all goes back to the when the Convention was drafted and biological diversity was put under national sovereignty – previously it had been regarded as humanity’s common heritage. The idea behind it was that the poor, but bio-diverse countries of the south could benefit (read make profit) by providing access to the biodiversity poor, but rich northern countries who would then in return “share the benefits”.
Well, it seem as if this concept was dreadfully wrong, and has provided benefits only in a very few cases which have never real reached the people who have been conserving the biodiversity. I attended a meeting yesterday here in Delhi where one of the speakers expressed the opinion that it was time to reverse the stance of biological diversity being under national sovereignty and again classify it as common heritage, since all countries are interdependent on genetic resources and not one of them is autonomous.