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Animal Welfare

Health Consequences

While on the surface it might seem that people seeking to clone a companion animal are among the greatest of animal lovers, an examination of the serious consequences to the animals involved reveals that they really would be doing more harm than good.

Scientists routinely refer to cloning as a new and ‘inefficient’ technology citing low average survival rates of between 0.5-4.0% for cloned embryos.[1] Cloned animals who actually survive birth can suffer unpredictable, serious health consequences (e.g. early onset of cancer, developmental problems, sudden death).[2] [3][4] Animal cloning technologies are still very new, and the long-term effects on cloned animals, particularly longer-lived animals such as cats, have yet to be adequately measured. Therefore, each time pet cloning companies attempt to clone an animal, it must be recognized as experimental. As of February 2005, only six cloned domestic cats are known to be alive, and only one dog has ever survived cloning.

One pet cloning firm claims that a new chromatin transfer (CT) technique is an improvement to nuclear transfer (NT) and claims that it has exclusively licensed the technique for cat and dog cloning. Citing a paper[5] on its website that discusses CT experiments and cattle cloning, the company states that CT will increase the survival of cloned pets. However, the study shows that CT resulted in no improvement over nuclear transfer in pregnancy rates, embryo survival, or survival rates at birth. CT has also not been evaluated as improving physical or behavioral similarites between original and cloned animals or increased survival of cloned animals beyond one month of life.

A review of the success of CT in the cattle cloning article reveals that two groups of cattle were used: one group of 506 cows had multiple NT cloned embryos implanted into them, and a second group of 273 cows were implanted with multiple CT cloned embryos. Pregnancy rates and numbers of live calves at birth were the same for both groups. Forty-six calves (i.e., 9 percent survival of cloned embryos) were born alive through NT alone, and 27 (i.e., 10 percent survival of cloned embryos) calves were born through CT, indicating that there is no statistically significant improvement in fetal survival between the two groups. However, the authors report that at one month postpartum, 26 calves (i.e., 5.1 percent survival of cloned embryos) from the NT group and 23 calves (i.e., 8.4 percent survival of cloned embryos) from the CT group were still alive. Though it may appear that CT will facilitate, in the authors’ words, “a trend toward survival enhancement,” 8.4 percent is an extremely low survival rate. Thirty-two calves died at birth (15 of whom were from the CT group), and 24 calves died under the age of four weeks (four of whom were from the CT group). The fate of the calves living beyond four weeks is unknown.

Another relevant paper, published in November 2004, described the results of an African wildcat cloning experiment involving 50 female cats in a Louisiana laboratory. [6] The cats were divided into two groups. One group had 25 or less cloned embryos implanted in each of them, and none of them established pregnancy. The other group had 30 or more cloned embryos implanted in them, and twelve of the cats developed pregnancies. 75% of the fetuses developed to term, while the others were aborted or resorbed. Of those kittens born, seven were stillborn, eight died before six weeks of age, and only two survived.

Dog and Cat Overpopulation

While pet cloning companies charge customers up to $50,000 for a cloned cat and up to $1,395 to “bank” a dog or cat’s DNA for future cloning, millions of homeless animals of the same species are available in U.S. animal shelters for around $100. Most of these animals are euthanized for lack of adopting homes. Cloned pets are not required to be spayed or neutered, and it is likely that someone who pays tens of thousands of dollars for a pet would want to breed them.

One company has claimed at times that the animals used in its experiments are adopted into private homes after use. In one instance, that total was 245 dogs and cats. Even if true, this is not a realistic plan if the pet cloning industry develops, because as the industry grows so does the number of former experimental animals in need of adoption.

In addition to the many animals used during the pet cloning process, cloned animals also may be born who are unhealthy or do not have the desired traits and therefore, are not ‘sellable,’ potentially adding to an already staggering problem and further burdening of shelters and municipal animal control agencies.

No Regulatory Oversight

Animal laboratories in which dogs and cats are used are legally required to abide by specific standards of animal care and use and have a committee that reviews the merits of protocols for animal experimentation. These labs are also inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which enforces the Animal Welfare Act, and must be federally-licensed (some state laws require a state license as well). Each year, these laboratories must report the numbers of cats and dogs on their premises and assign each animal to a category of experienced pain and distress, based on the experiments in which they were used. This allows some accountability to the public, and official documents can be requested from the USDA regarding animals used or held at any registered research facility.

Pet cloning companies are neither licensed by any local, state, or federal agency, nor officially accredited by any organization requiring certain standards of animal care and use. Therefore, the public has absolutely no way of knowing the fate of the animals used in cloning experiments in the pet cloning laboratories.

Disregard for an Animal’s Value

The pet cloning industry treats companion animals as nothing more than commodities: producers and products. Companies even offers gift certificates and a refund or exchange should an animal become ‘defective.’ Cloning a companion animal exploits many animals who are bought from animal dealers and then used as 'production units' in the laboratory—from the colony of ‘surrogate mothers’ who are injected with hormones to synchronize their reproductive periods and implanted with cloned embryos to the cloned offspring, who may or may not survive.

In its December company newsletter, one firm stated that it plans to ‘rent’ dogs from its National Breeders Network to use as ‘surrogate’ mothers in their laboratory. Dog breeders can ship dogs, who they otherwise could not sell, to the company's lab and make a profit from their exploitation. A staff member of the corporation said, ” Every breeder also ends up with some dogs who lack [desired] traits…so now breeders have a way to earn income from those dogs too and not just from their champions….We have about 150 dogs in our Network.”

References

[1] Paterson, L., DeSousa, P., Ritchie, W., King, T., and Wilmut, I. 2003. Application of reproductive biotechnology in animals: implications and potentials. Applications of reproductive cloning. Animal Reproduction Science, 79(3-4):137-143.

[2] Rideout, W.M., Eggan, K., and Jaenisch, R. 2001. Nuclear Cloning and Epigenetic Reprogramming of the Genome. Science. 293: 1093-1098.

[3] Schatten, G., Prather, R., and Wilmut, I. 2003. Cloning Claim Is Science Fiction, Not Science. Science. 299:344.

[4] Wilmut I, Beaujean N, de Sousa PA, Dinnyes A, King TJ, Paterson LA, Wells DN, Young LE. 2002. Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer. Nature. 419(6907):583-6.

[5] Sullivan, E.J., Kasinathan, S., Kasinathan, P., Robl, J., and Collas, P. 2004. Cloned calves from chromatin remodeled in vitro. Biology of Reproduction. 70:146-153.

[6] Gómez, M.C., Pope, C.E., Giraldo, A., Lyons, L.A., Harris, R.F., King, A.L., Cole, A., Godke, R.A., and Dresser, B.L. 2004. Birth of African Wildcat Cloned Kittens Born from Domestic Cats. Cloning and Stem Cells. 6:247-268.








Two cats in a cage
Will Genetic Savings disclose to the public how many cats, if any, have to be killed to make one marketable cat? The company spokesman had no answer.”
(Debra Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/20/04.)
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