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Sales of cloned cattle multiply

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Nov. 3, 2003, 6:26AM

Sales of cloned cattle multiply
Associated Press

FORT WORTH -- Cattle are quietly being cloned and sold for high prices as the livestock industry anticipates government approval for letting their offspring into the food chain, industry officials said.

Meat or milk derived from healthy cloned farm animals appears safe to eat, the Food and Drug Administration said Friday in its first attempt at assessing questions about the emerging technology.

The FDA is still trying to decide if cloned farm animals will require government approval before being sold as food. That decision is expected to take another year.

The cattle industry has voluntarily agreed to keep products from cloned animals out of the food supply. But in the meantime, there already are as many as 300 cloned bulls in existence, said Lisa Dryer of Biotechnology Industry Organization, a Washington lobbying group.

And an Austin-based biotech firm, ViaGen, said Friday that a cow cloned from a prodigious producing animal was auctioned for $170,000 in Iberia, Mo.

Some members of Texas' cattle circles have reservations about whether cloning is commercially practical. The cost of a cloned calf currently is estimated at $19,000. And some cloned animals develop health problems.

"A lot of those cloned animals have not been as high performance as the animals they've been cloned from," Ernie Davis, professor of livestock marketing at Texas A&M University, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I think the jury is still out on cloning."

But others said they are ready to consider the technology to enhance their breeding stock.

"Look at it this way. It's like duplicating Michael Jordan until you have five Michael Jordans on a team," said Donald Brown, who runs the cattle-breeding program at his family's Throckmorton ranch. "Cloning takes breeding to a whole new level."

ViaGen President Scott Davis said "thousands and thousands" of units of frozen semen from hundreds of cloned bulls are being stockpiled around the country, ready for sale to cattle breeders when the FDA issues its new guidelines.

He said ViaGen is working with Smithfield Foods, the world's largest hog processor and producer, to use cloning to create more productive and faster-growing pigs. Even if the company saves just a dollar or less per pig, "multiply that by 10 million," he said.

And Scott Davis, not related to Ernie Davis, said cloning likely will become even more accessible and profitable in the future as the cost to clone an animal falls.

"All cloning is a way to accelerate the rate of genetic progress," he said. "It's basically just another breeding tool in the animal breeder's tool kit."

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