What’s the beef? Is cloning cows cruel?
The 7,000 people who signed a petition against cloning certainly think so. This was delivered to 10 Downing Street on Friday by 35 activists from Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and was in response to the recent news that cloned cows have entered the British food system.
The alarm was raised when a farmer claimed that milk from a cow born to a clone had gone on sale in shops without any special labelling.
It has now been reported that there are at least 105 cows descended from clones living in Britain (Daily Mail – see weblink below).
As a scientist my first thought was – so what. After all – clones exist naturally as twins and there would be no problem with selling milk from a natural clone. However, as many people point out, the fact is that many artificial clones die young (Dolly the sheep is an example of this) and therefore cloning creates animals that lead a short and possibly pain-filled life.
This is a great way of teaching about cloning in context. I think that quite often students view cloning as a futuristic method – or one that is only done by the occasional scientist to show it is possible but this story shows cloning being done now – and the results are in our country, possibly even in our shops.
The actual cloning process took place in the USA. The biotech firm Cyagra Clone took cells from the ear of a cow called Vandyk K Integ Paradise. She was an award-winning Holstein who could produce 30-40% more milk than a standard cow. Obviously she was making her farmer a lot of money and so the firm made three clones of her and sold them to farms for around £50,000 each.
The process of adult cell cloning can be discussed using this example. Students can find out about how the process works and why it was done. Traditionally selective breeding would have been used by farmers to increase the milk production of their livestock – why is buying cloned cows a better alternative?
The cows at the centre of this controversy are daughters of these cloned cows. They were bought to British farms as embryos. This highlights a second type of cloning – embryo transplants. An egg from a cloned cow would have been fertilised with semen from a prize-winning bull and then grown in-vitro. Once the embryo had reached a certain size it would have been divided to form several identical embryos. Each one could then be frozen, shipped to Britain and then implanted into a surrogate cow. The embryos could even have been tested to check that they were females before being sold. This process could be used to create multiple clones that could be sold to many different farmers – each one for around £15,000.
Again – an example of another type of animal cloning for students to study. They could discuss why this process was carried out and the advantages and disadvantages of embryo cloning over adult cell cloning.
Finally, the ethics of cloning could be discussed. There are two issues to debate here. Firstly – is it cruel to clone animals? Should we be meddling with such things just to provide cheap food to the masses?
Secondly – is it ok to have milk and meat from cloned animals or their offspring sold without proper labelling? Do people have a right to know what they are eating and should these animals even be allowed in British farms?
I would love to hear from anyone who has a view on any of these questions.
I have included a worksheet on cloning to download.
The first is an exercise suitable for KS3 and KS4 students on how the cloning process of the cows took place. They have to use the diagram to rearrange the steps of the process into the correct order.
The second is a sheet that asks them to think about possible other uses of animal cloning including cloning humans. The examples are thought-provoking and should make interesting topics for debate in the classroom.
Recent news story from the Daily Mail on the cloned cows.
A great on-line simulation where you get to clone mimi the mouse.
Anything to add?
Whilst writing this post, it’s always a possibility that I missed some other great information or teaching ideas. Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on the story.