Cloned cows to feed China

The scientist behind plans to build the world’s largest animal cloning factory in China has hailed the venture as an “extremely important” contribution that could help save critically endangered species from becoming extinct.

Xu Xiaochun, the chief executive of BoyaLife, the company behind the R445‐million project, said it would begin operations in the first half of 2016 in Tianjin, a city about 160km from Beijing.

“We are going [down] a path that no one has ever travelled,” he told the Guardian this week. “We are building something that has not existed in the past.”

The main focus of the 14 000m2 facility will be cloning cattle to feed China’s rocketing demand for beef.

BoyaLife initially hopes to produce 100 000 “top‐quality” cow embryos a year and eventually to be responsible for five percent of the premium cattle slaughtered in China.

No difference between clones and the real thing
The intended size of the operation dwarfs that of United States companies allowed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to sell meat and dairy from cloned livestock since 2008. The FDA ruled that clones were as safe to eat as any other cattle, pigs or goats. But most cloned cattle in the US are used as breeding stock to raise the quality of herds, rather than to sell for food.

In the United Kingdom, meat and milk from cloned cows are considered “novel foods” and suppliers need special permission to sell them. In 2010, beef from the offspring of a cow cloned in the US entered the food chain, leading to an investigation by the Food Standards Agency.

In a statement on cloned animals, the European Food Safety Authority said there was no evidence of differences between meat and dairy products from clones or their offspring and healthy, conventionally bred animals. But it reiterated its concerns that the cloning process can cause animal health and welfare problems, “mainly due the increased number of deaths at all stages of development”.

Scientists at BoyaLife will also focus on cloning champion racehorses and sniffer dogs capable of locating victims of natural disasters or stashes of illegal drugs. – © Guardian News & Media 2015

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