Dolly is a classic American name that holds with it the prestige of a first lady and the persona of a country signer. The lesser-known Dolly, however, is the name of the world’s most famous sheep. In 1997, she was the first mammal to be cloned successfully. Although the first mammal to be cloned was around two decades ago, the technology is still relatively new and scientists are continuously researching new techniques of cloning.
Due to the lack of general knowledge, there have been concerns raised about the safety of consuming cloned agriculture. The uneasiness sprouts from scientists and consumers, alike. These anxieties, for now however, can be put to rest. Multiple studies testing the composition of cloned animals versus naturally mating animals found no significant difference that could lead to severe health effects.
The first type of cloning used, such as in mammals like Dolly, is somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), which is when the cell nucleus from an adult cell is transferred into an unfertilized oocyte that has had its cell nucleus removed. The hybrid cell is then stimulated to divide by an electric shock. Finally, when it develops into a blastocyst and it is implanted in a surrogate mother. The more recently discovered type of cloning is embryonic cell nuclear transfer (ECNT). The methods are very similar, however, SCNT comes from adult cells where as ECNT is from embryos.
While these two methods have been successful, researchers still face issues with the efficiency of cloning and as well as the health of the cloned animals. Animals cloned by SCNT have higher rates of pregnancy loss, difficult parturition, and high post-natal mortality. Around 20% of the cloned animals die within the first twenty-four hours of their lives. Even though scientists are still struggling with the development process, sufficient research has shown that cloned animals are not harmful for human consumption.
A study published on Theriogenology: An International Journal of Animal Reproduction, investigated the composition of meat and milk in cloned cattle. The reason for looking into the composition of cloned cows further sprouted from the high prenatal death and the desire to investigate the necessity of regulation in the testing of cloned animal products.
An important evaluation of meat from cloned cattle was conducted on adult Japanese Black cattle derived from either embryonic or somatic nuclear transfer. To analyze the components, they used electrophoresis to separate the species. In the study, properties of meat samples were examined and it was shown for the first time the biochemical and biological characteristics of meat from cloned cattle were similar to that of non-cloned cattle. The only differences found by scientists were slight but significant enough to advance their research. The deviations caused a question of the safety of consuming these animal products.
Heyman, the head investigator, and his group of researchers then decided to test these variations of the nutritional value of cloned animal products using Wistar rats. Four groups of the Wistar rats were adapted to different regimens of cloned milk and meat and then fed for three weeks. Comparing the control group and the test groups, it was found there was no difference between the two rats. Rats are sensitive models, so the fact that they showed no biological and biochemical difference demonstrates that cloned products are not harmful to humans.
The United States Food and Drug Administration, or US FDA, conducted a study (The US FDA and animal cloning: Risk and regulatory approach) after various companies contacted them to discuss using cloned livestock for breeding stock. They FDA did not have regulations for cloned meat and thus decided to research the safety of the cloned products. Their research looked at the blood composition, carcass characteristics, proximates, and amount and distributions of amino acids, fatty acids and key vitamins and minerals for both clones and naturally mating cattle.
They concluded that cloned cattle produce the same hazards that naturally mating animals do. Furthermore, although many cloned animals have high prenatal issues, if a healthy animal is produced and grows into an adult then the products produce no significant hazards.
The FDA has therefore decided not to enforce any new regulations involving the testing of cloned meat. They have, however, agreed to stay up to date with new research on cloned animals and take precautions as necessary. As of now, they still have not approved cloned meat to be distributed legally into the commercial food market.
As discussed above, research supports the safety of consuming cloned animal products. In spite of this, the evidence has not convinced the human population. As a result, a study by Sawada Aizaki and K. Sato, was conducted to test the consumer’s attitudes before and after learning more about the cloning process and the limited health effects it poses. The study was issued to healthy, Japanese meat consumers who had cooked with beef in the last week. They took the survey before and after learning about the cloned meat. It was found that the consumers held the same attitude towards the cloned meat before and after being informed about it.
Although science proves that cloned meat posses no new threats compared to naturally mating meat, more research needs to be conducted on the topic. This is because there is still a lack of general knowledge not just among the common population but also among the researcher population. If significant research is conducted that produces consistent and reliable results, then cloned meat could be on the forefront of innovating our meat industry. Only time and further research will tell if double the meat really is double the trouble.