Whether we choose to turn a blind eye to it or not, animal cloning is taking place all over the world. What makes this particular case unique is the sheer number of cloned pigs created annually in a Chinese factory run by BGI, the Beijing Genomics Institute.
The cloning factory, previously an old shoe factory in Shenzhen, China, is packed with scientists and uses hands-on techniques to produces 500 cloned pigs each year.
Is there an ethical issue with cloning pigs or any other animals for that matter? Or are we only sensitive when it comes to the idea of cloning humans?
According to BGI, due to the fact that pigs have a genetic structure similar to humans, they will be able to do extensive testing on them to try and find cures or treatments for diseases such as Alzheimers. So currently, the primary purpose for cloning such large number of pigs is for medical testing.
Yet aside from cloning, the factory is also working on gene sequencing on a mass scale for perhaps less ‘noble’ purposes. According to BGI’s chief executive, Wang Jun:
“If it tastes good you should sequence it… You should know what’s in the genes of that species…. if it looks cute – anything that looks cute: panda, polar bear, penguin, you should really sequence it – it’s like digitalising all the wonderful species…”
When Wang Jun was asked by BBC reporter David Shukman whether or not he felt that he was controlling nature, Jun replied:
“No, we’re following Nature – there are lots of people dying from hunger and protein supply so we have to think about ways of dealing with that, for example exploring the potential of rice as a species.”
BGI may be dedicated to saving the world, but there are many issues that still exist with cloning animals. The Humane Society of the United States produced a report on “Welfare Issues with Genetic Engineering and Cloning of Farm Animals” which mentions the following:
“Cloned animals were indeed more likely to suffer birth defects and health problems… Biotechnology has produced animals with a range of gross deformities… Some abnormalities may not show up until later in life… [C]loned animals that reach birth or beyond may appear normal, but research shows they’re not… Mounting evidence shows that the death and deformities found among many cloned and genetically engineered species appear to be the norm rather than the exception, resulting in needless animal suffering.”
The irony of the issues surrounding cloning pigs is that it seems we have much more of an ethical problem with creating cloned pigs that may suffer abnormalities than we do with the horrific conditions we raise and keep most livestock, pumping them with growth hormones and then slaughtering them to satisfy our needs.
As with most new technology, there are no easy answers to the ethical issues surrounding them. Even pumping livestock with hormones and antibiotics can be justified by saying it is ‘for the greater good’ by enabling greater production of meat to ‘help reduce costs and world hunger.’
Or look at how many of our fruits and vegetables today have been genetically altered to be more resistant to certain bugs, or even having new types of fruit created based on gene-crossing.
We have no way of knowing yet how tampering with genetics will affect us; at the minimum though, we should not live in ignorance and turn a blind eye to the direction cloning is going.
Despite bans on human cloning, there is no doubt that humans will eventually be next once the cloning procedures produce more stable results. It is only a matter of time, and with the exponential advancement of technology, TV series such as Orphan Black may no longer be considered science fiction.
Watch the video below from the Science Channel
Geneticist Robert Lanza brings extinct animals back to life, and says the technology exists to bring back dead humans. But will society ever permit human cloning?