Milk and meat
September 25, 2002 7:27 AM   Subscribe

Milk and meat from cloned cows and their offspring may be on store shelves by next year. Apparently breeders are already raising "scores" of clones in America. Just another step to making animals to suit our needs (domestication, organ cloning, and Silk from goat's milk.
posted by LordMcD (30 comments total)

 
Considering some of the synthetic food we ingest, one would think products from cloned animals would be the least of our worries.

Mmmm.... Preservatives.
posted by Dark Messiah at 7:29 AM on September 25, 2002


Knowledge is power.
posted by Beholder at 7:37 AM on September 25, 2002


"Industry advocates respond that cloning is still in its early days, and they aim to reduce the failure rate -- and thus, the potential for suffering. They predict a gradual acceptance."

I find this comment to be sickly amusing. Reducing the failure rate will surely result in more suffering. Any animal that would be forced to live it's life on a factory farm before being butchered for meat is better off dying at birth.
posted by plasticbaby at 7:55 AM on September 25, 2002


It's curious that one of the arguments against GM foods (from Beholder's link) is its impact on the organic food business. Why should that be a reason for me to protest GM foods? Give me actual health studies, not fearmongering.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:00 AM on September 25, 2002


Actual health studies don't give the proper results, is why.
posted by UncleFes at 9:02 AM on September 25, 2002


We've been genetically modifying food since early man learned to selectively breed wheat and corn. All that has changed is the timescale.
posted by PenDevil at 9:05 AM on September 25, 2002


Direct genetic molecular manipulation is profoundly different from selective breeding, PenDevil. No amount of timescale will get spider genes into goats other than with lab-based DNA alteration.

We are entering an era in which new forms of allergy, disease and birth defects will become commonplace as these novel products and their unique, unknowable cellular by-products become foisted upon an unwitting public.

Even if you are in favor of continuing the genetic manipulations of foods and other products, what's so wrong with labeling?
posted by skimble at 9:21 AM on September 25, 2002


mmmm.... my soymilk today tastes even better than it did yesterday.
posted by hobbes at 9:27 AM on September 25, 2002


skimble: Isn't the whole point of genetic modification to remove allergy, disease and birth defects? Will nature be able to breed new viruses/bacteria/organism at the same speed that we will be able to modify them (or ourselves?) to be harmless?

And I have no problems with labelling. Besides I best not speak up to much otherwise our SpiderGoat overlords might become angry...
posted by PenDevil at 9:27 AM on September 25, 2002


PenDevil, The Law of Unintended Consequences and Murphy's Law are at work even on the cellular level. It doesn't matter what the official goals of genetic modification are -- they will certainly have unintended consequences, including allergy, birth defects, etc. Here's a description of the slippery slope we're on with transgenetic animals.

I just don't want to eat the stuff myself. And the only way I can avoid it is if it's labeled.

The SpiderGoat overlords are already pissed off. Just wait until they learn how to type.
posted by skimble at 9:40 AM on September 25, 2002


So, here's my question about Cloning and Gengineering food. And it's a question in Parallel.

Pro-third-world advocates (I don't know what to call them, but the people with the very admirable goal of helping people in impovrished and starving nations to help themselves) have fought tooth and nail with drug companies and governments to get cheap HIV drugs, to fight patents, to increase the black market and grey market and to help those suffering with HIV in the third world. This is a very admirable thing to do. Except.

"By demonizing drug companies, gutting intellectual property rights, and forcing down drug prices, AIDS activists have now succeeded in dramatically slowing HIV research. " says Andrew Sullivan, himself HIV positive. And while he's part of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, the numbers do speak for themselves. Between %5 and %30 less development in drugs combatting HIV are in development than just a few years ago. Because it isn't worth it.

Sullivan again, "What's interesting here is that there is a collusion of interests between the leftist campaigners and the publicity-shy drug companies. The lefties want to insist there's no trade-off in the hounding of pharmaceutical companies; the companies don't want to admit that their research is fueled by such gross motives as making money. Meanwhile, progress against a fast-mutating virus slows. "


I wonder if the same thing is going to happen here with food. Population is finally succumbing to Malthusian numbers, and we can't feed them all for the moment. Currently, yes, most famines are manmade. But with populations doubling and trebling, no, that's not going to be the case forever. An examination of why people are so anti the exact progress that will save the lives that they want saved might be in order.
posted by swerdloff at 9:43 AM on September 25, 2002


We are entering an era in which new forms of allergy, disease and birth defects will become commonplace as these novel products and their unique, unknowable cellular by-products become foisted upon an unwitting public.

1) cloning != genetic modification.

2) You state this with great confidence, where there's little evidence to support it, and it's not terribly likely... for example, with respect to the birth defects that you are so certain will happen.

Though I'm not an expert in the field, I think it's quite unlikely to have, say, a proteinaceous teratogen. (Most large proteins are broken down in the gut, anyhow.) All the teratogens I know of are not present in living creatures in any significant concentrations.

Allergies are a more serious concern, but they're more easily controllable (you can usually isolate the protein that causes the problem) and you can even modify the organism to reduce the concentration of that protein.

And as for disease, what, other than allergies and birth defects did you mean? And even if some sort of nebulous "disease" might be a problem, do you think that Zambia was right to reject genetically-modified corn for their starving citizens? You've got to balance risks with benefits sometimes. That's what public health is all about.

There are concerns about GM foods, but hysterical fear of "unique, unknowable cellular by-products" and such doesn't really add much to the debate.
posted by ptermit at 10:55 AM on September 25, 2002


No, cloning is not equivalent to GM. But since that spectre has been raised already and since it is definitely a related concern, I thought I'd mention that the National Academy of Sciences just found that GM animals pose a serious risk to the environment because they can conceivably get out of their enclosures and go god-knows-where. Something worth thinking about, anyway.
posted by soyjoy at 11:13 AM on September 25, 2002


Man, the zebra mussels will be pissed if that happens.
posted by UncleFes at 11:38 AM on September 25, 2002


Soyjoy: Yes, definitely worth thinking about and talking about. That's one of the major concerns with genetically modified animals and crops. (Though some of the ways of dealing with the problems, i.e. terminator technology, are attacked for reasons unrelated to safety.)

As for cloned animals, however, if someone could clone that hamburger I had the other night, I'd be all for it. Mmmm... cloneburger.
posted by ptermit at 11:39 AM on September 25, 2002


Touche, Fes! :)
posted by ptermit at 11:42 AM on September 25, 2002


All I want is simple labeling of all gene-related synthetic procedures applied to foodstuffs. Is that so hysterical?

And, ptermit, since you feel it's unlikely to have a proteinaceous teratogen, why should I have to eat it unwittingly?

Do you really believe agribiz is playing with genomes so they can provide foods to Zambia? Please reconsider their real motivations.

P.S. soyjoy is right, cloning is not equivalent to transgenetics or other forms of GM. Not calling for a ban -- just a damn label so buyers can beware if they choose to.
posted by skimble at 11:51 AM on September 25, 2002


"By demonizing drug companies, gutting intellectual property rights, and forcing down drug prices, AIDS activists have now succeeded in dramatically slowing HIV research. " says Andrew Sullivan, himself HIV positive. And while he's part of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, the numbers do speak for themselves. Between %5 and %30 less development in drugs combating HIV are in development than just a few years ago. Because it isn't worth it.

That statement is so full of shit I can't believe some one would dare say it. ACT UP has saved countless lives by campaigning to reduce the price of HIV treatment, increase general awareness and speed up the FDA approval process. If the number speak for themselves, then look at the number of treatments before ACT UP's campaign began in 1987 (1) and after (13).
posted by euphorb at 12:06 PM on September 25, 2002


Skimble: Fine... argue for labeling. That's not hysterical. It is hysterical to say that birth defects will be commonplace and we'll be poisoned by "unknowable cellular by-products" (whatever those are.) If you just made an intelligent argument for labeling instead of making totally unscientific statements, I probably would have agreed with you. But that's not what you did.

Do you really believe agribiz is playing with genomes so they can provide foods to Zambia? Please reconsider their real motivations.
No, I don't think that's their motivation, but that's irrelevant to the question I asked. And while we're considering motivations, do you think that the anti-GM side is entirely unmotivated by politics? Ask yourself what would happen to the US and European positions if Monsanto were a European company instead of an American one.

The debate about GM foods a very complicated issue, with good points on both sides. Waving your hands about poisons and birth defects obscures rather than illuminates. And it's all off-topic, too.
posted by ptermit at 12:08 PM on September 25, 2002


I'm not concerned about eating meat from a cloned animal. I am concerned about the potential dangers for farmers in reducing the genetic diversity of their livestock even more than has already been done. If we get to the point where every farmer has herds made up of clones of the most productive cows, then it only takes one livestock epidemic to wipe out everyone's herds. Genetic diversity plays a huge part in slowing the spread of disease. In fact, some theorists speculate that the main evolutionary function of sex is to enable organisms to hold their own in an arms race agains parasites & germs by changing the molecular/genetic locks every generation.
posted by tdismukes at 1:08 PM on September 25, 2002


There are concerns about GM foods, but hysterical fear of "unique, unknowable cellular by-products" and such doesn't really add much to the debate.

Why not. It may not add specific knowable facts, but I think it's a valid concern knowing the vast amount of information we don't know about how genes, proteins, cells, etc work.

Something that's always fascinated me is the notion of Programmed Cell Death, or Apoptois, wherein a cell is triggered in certain ways to basically commit suicide. There are all kinds of ways it can get signal to do such a thing, but one of the ways in which they currently perceive some cancers to begin is with production of certain proteins. They inhibit the ability of a damaged cell to kill itself while beginning a cycle of rampant damaged cell production = cancer.

I'm not saying that GM foods will certainly produce cancers or other forms of weird mutant disease. There is little evidence of it's occurrence up to this point. But what is curious to me is that there are so many questions and possibilities wherein small little shifts in DNA can create unpredictable results. Pressing our food supply into such narrow monocultures seems wildly dangerous.
posted by nyoki at 1:58 PM on September 25, 2002


ptermit, I didn't say birth defects would be commonplace, but the article about the National Academy of Sciences report that I cited above did say the following:

Other concerns include the possibility that transgenic-animal products might trigger allergies in people who eat them and the adverse effects of bioengineering on the animals themselves.

For example, biotech calves and lambs tend to be born later and bigger, resulting in difficult births often requiring Caesarean sections. And some biotech techniques cause an increase in the birth of deformed animals.

''Some of the results were not pretty,'' says Joseph Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C. ''You're essentially creating animals that are pretty horrific and suffer a great deal.''

Emphasis added. My "hand-waving" came from reading about this report, not a general sense of partisan hysteria. I'm not against GM, I'm simply in favor of slapping a clear label on it.

Since this thread is about designing new animals to suit our needs, I don't see how anything I've said or cited is off-topic or falls into the hysteria camp. You, however, have shared your fantastically scientific theory on the safety of proteinaceous teratogens.

Nyoki figured out that all I was saying is we don't know a whole heck of a lot about what might happen when we (Americans, Europeans, Zambians) mess with the genome.
posted by skimble at 3:15 PM on September 25, 2002


ptermit, I didn't say birth defects would be commonplace
"We are entering an era in which new forms of allergy, disease and birth defects will become commonplace as these novel products..."

So what part of "birth defects will become commonplace" did I misinterpret?

... transgenic-animal products might trigger allergies...

And I said, "Allergies are a more serious concern...." No argument there.

... some biotech techniques cause an increase in the birth of deformed animals.

It's well known that cloned animals are almost abnormal. Normal births are maybe 1 in 100 or fewer. This is a totally different issue from cloned animals' causing birth defects in consumers, which is what you were concerned about becoming commonplace in an unwitting public. Oh, I forgot. You never said that.

My "hand-waving" came from reading about this report, not a general sense of partisan hysteria.

No. Let me make this perfectly clear. Your hand-waving came when you said, "We are entering an era in which new forms of allergy, disease and birth defects will become commonplace as these novel products and their unique, unknowable cellular by-products become foisted upon an unwitting public."

The NAS report says GM foods might cause allergies and cause birth defects in GM&cloned animals. These are medical and ethical issues that could cause potential problems. You're saying that GM foods and their "cellular by-products" will cause disease and birth defects on a wide scale in an unwitting public. BIG difference. One is rational concern (the type exhibited by soyjoy.) One is unscientific, alarmist, and uses handwaving terms like "cellular by-products." One shows a basic knowledge of biology. The other doesn't. One adds to the discussion. One doesn't.

As for off-topic... I concede the point. Though cloning and GM are totally different issues, the discussion is about both. I was wrong to call it off-topic. Hysterical, yes, off-topic, no. :)
posted by ptermit at 4:18 PM on September 25, 2002


Nyoki: It doesn't add to the debate because there's a lot that we know about the way genes, cells, anatomy, and epidemiology *do* work. Unless one's objections to GM food take that knowledge into account, spewing stuff about "cellular by-products" looks ridiculous. (skimble, on the other hand, makes fun of my use of the term "teratogens." Do a google search on "cellular by-products" and see what you get. Do one on "teratogens" and see what you get. [You won't find "proteinaceous teratogens" cause there ain't any that I know of, which was my point.] Which sort of terminology do you think is more relevant?)

As for apoptosis, p53, etc.... yes, it's a very neat line of work, but not terribly relevant. There's a big difference between having a gene expressed in your genome and consuming a genetically-modified food. "Small little shifts in DNA" aren't going to happen in our genome when we consume a modified food -- they *would* happen if we had genetically-modified humans, which is a totally different kettle of fish.

Pressing our food supply into such narrow monocultures seems wildly dangerous.

Very valid concern, and it's an issue with cloning.
posted by ptermit at 4:37 PM on September 25, 2002


ptermit, I'm not making fun of your pedantic use of the word teratogens, I'm making fun of your belief that if something isn't known now it will never be known. Protein synthesis is an expression of gene function and if you in your omniscience can say without hesitation now and for all eternity that there will never be a proteinaceous teratogen, I for one will not believe you anyway. Hence my desire for labels.

Since when are google hits a definition of validity? "Cellular by-product" is my own coinage, so you won't find it in a google search. What I meant by the term is an inadvertent by-product of a genetic manipulation that you might find in, oh, a cell. You know, protein synthesis of an unexpected nature. Strange new enzymatic activity. Unpredictable antigens. Receptor blocking. Adhesion to ion channels in mitochondrial membranes. Unscientific, alarmist stuff.

You're right about the commonplace birth defects. Not yet expected in consumers, only in what consumers might eat unwittingly. Touché.
posted by skimble at 5:00 PM on September 25, 2002


Euphorb, I'm sure the people that might have been cured with %30 more spending are thrilled with those statistics. And certainly the happy comfortable people with their drug cocktails that the virus is mutating to resist are quite pleased as well. :) In fact, if I had a rapidly mutating killer disease, and someone were to offer me cheap medicine that would prolong my disease in exchange for a %30 less chance of a cure, I'm sure I'd be thrilled to take it. Of course, in the aggregate, over many years, I might be a little sad that nobody took the time to look forward and realize that the money that wasn't spent over say, five years, would have been enough to potentially produce major breakthroughs, but hey, I'd be happy enough just receiving my cheap cocktail so I could live a few more years.

And either way, it's off topic and was meant as a parallel. When people go in to try to help and don't see any sort of secondary gain, and help in the short term but hamstring in the long term, we call that "short sighted."

And frankly, my glow in the dark rabbit could probably kick UncleFes' zebra mussels butt anyway.

I now suddenly want a bumper sticker that says something like "My other car is half elephant."
posted by swerdloff at 5:15 PM on September 25, 2002


ok ptermit - admittedly, i'm a graphic designer and not a cellular biologist and therefor no expert on the subject. i notice things here and there and wonder if there is a connection.

the strongest link as i see it between apoptosis and GM foods lies in the development of plants as vaccines, especially in the hands of these people.

as far as i understand, there are elements of cellular communication that we are just beginning to understand. proteins are triggers, both positive and negative. the creation of GM plants lies on the shoulders of the insertion of BT, a soil bacterium aka. protein. we don't know about long term effects of consumption of increased dosages of BT. introduce plants as vaccines, which we'll eat that then transmit antigens into our bodies therefor triggering responses within the immune system . . . i don't know - the whole thing starts making me nervous.
posted by nyoki at 5:48 PM on September 25, 2002


ptermit, I'm not making fun of your pedantic use of the word teratogens,
Self-contradictory statements come easy to you, I see.

I'm making fun of your belief that if something isn't known now it will never be known.

I never said anything of the sort. I just said that your statement was implausible, and I gave a reason why. And I was taking issue with your alarmist statement that had no scientific backing.


if you in your omniscience can say without hesitation now and for all eternity that there will never be a proteinaceous teratogen...

I can't say that without hesitation. I even can't say for certain that they don't exist right now. I can't say without hesitation for now and for all eternity that there will never be a flying polka-dotted elephant, but it's certainly premature to start worrying about elephant droppings falling from the sky. Give me some scientific evidence, or even a plausible mechanism, and I'll pay attention. Absent that, it's just noise.

Since when are google hits a definition of validity? "Cellular by-product" is my own coinage, so you won't find it in a google search.

Give that man a cigar! That was exactly my point. "Cellular by-product" was something you pulled out of your ... er ... it was a term you coined yourself.

What I meant by the term is an inadvertent by-product of a genetic manipulation that you might find in, oh, a cell....

Fine. Antigens are reasonable to worry about. Toxins less so... they'd be discovered pretty quickly, and you'd probably have to work pretty hard to insert them. Teratogens even less so. So I don't see how this would cause widespread disease. And there's a very, very large difference between gene expression in an organism and getting that protein through the gut, into the bloodstream, and into a place where the protein causes damage. It's a distinction that opponents of GM tend to gloss over, you included.

But this is beside the point. If you had made an argument about some specific worry, such as gene leakage into the environment, we could have had a reasonable discussion. That's not what you did. You made a hysterical statement. I called you on it. You persisted, trying to deny what you said. (I didn't even call you on all of your BS. e.g. My "hand-waving" came from reading about this report. Since you made almost the exact same statement on your weblog two weeks before the report came out, I guess this means you're psychic, right? You certainly wouldn't be pretending to have read a report that informed your opinions after you formed them.)

The fact remains you said that GM foods would cause widespread disease, allergies, and birth defects. I said that this was utter BS. Nothing you have said changes this or makes me think you have anything useful to say.
posted by ptermit at 6:29 PM on September 25, 2002


Nyoki: The plants as vaccines is a good point, and it also illustrates why it's so difficult to imagine GM foods' causing widespread disease.

Relatively small, simple proteins can be absorbed into the bloodstream without being broken down by enzymes in the gut. Large proteins can't, more or less (this is why you can drink some snake venoms without ill effects). Oral vaccines tend to be harder to make than injected ones (which go directly into the bloodstream) for this reason. That's why it's so hard to make food vaccines -- you have to have an antigen small enough to pass through the gut and still have enough specificity to give you immunity.

There's no question that bioactive substances get through the gut, but the number that do is miniscule compared to the bioactive substances that take effect in the bloodstream. Similarly, a genetic change that could be extremely damaging to an organism will almost certainly have no effect when that organism is eaten -- that is, unless you're specifically trying to insert something in the genome *designed* to have an effect.

That's why you can expect new antigens in GM foods that cause allergic reactions, but toxins or other harmful substances are considerably less likely. And this is a good deal of the reason why the panel said "there is no great harm posed to humans who eat genetically modified animals, vegetables or grains, with the exception of the potential for allergic or hypersensitivity reactions. "
posted by ptermit at 6:43 PM on September 25, 2002


ptermit, I think what we have is an irreconcilable conflict of verbal styles.

You seem to concede that with the introduction of GM into animal-based foodstuffs, the possibility of novel allergies, the potential for harmful antigens, and birth defects (at the very least among the GM animals to be used for food) are all real. And yet this is the single sentence of mine that you have characterized, over and over, as hysterical.

An analogy: It takes about 10 years and a gazillion dollars to get a prescription drug to market. Why? Because we're looking not only for clinical efficacy but also for side effects. I postulated (weeks before the NAS study, shockingly) that some side effects (cf. wacky "cellular by-products") of GM foods will not be found immediately and, furthermore, that they will be harmful. The best designs, even those by our most thoughtful scientific minds, often go awry. Let's also remember that GM foods are not nearly as regulated or controlled or labeled as the average prescription drug. I'm not calling for a ban or an end to study, but I believe GM is a Pandora's box. Because I do not trust the motivations of those who would introduce it into the food supply, I want it clearly labeled -- that's all. Let self-electing free market guinea pigs determine its ultimate safety and value.

I'm sorry I didn't focus on the genes-escaping-into-environment argument of which you seem to approve. And I'm deeply sorry you have so much time on your hands to dwell on the hysterical observations of those of us who add so little to the argument. You ought to give yourself some time to think about that.
posted by skimble at 8:04 AM on September 26, 2002


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