The largest animal cloning factory in the world is now likely underway in China — a path “no one has ever travelled” in cattle cloning and meeting the country’s skyrocketing demand for beef.
The projected 14,000-square-meter factory will be built and operated by Boyalife, which is allotting 200 million yuan ($313 million) for the project. Tianjin, a city situated about 100 miles from the Chinese capital, will be the site of the grand venture to be started in the first half of next year.
According to Boyalife's chief exectuive Xiao-Chun Xu, they are hoping at the moment to produce 100,000 cow embryos annually and to contribute five percent of China's premium cattle.
“We are building something that has not existed in the past,” said Xu in an interview.
Boyalife scientists will also explore cloning champion racehorses as well as sniffer dogs that can assist in rescue operations or detect illegal drugs. Xu added that helping save critically endangered species is another one of their targets.
“This is going to change our world and our lives,” the CEO said of the factory, which is among the latest moves of China to lead in cloning technology worldwide.
According to a Hong Kong publication, mainland Chinese scientists have already been cloning pigs, sheep, and cattle for around 15 years now. Another media outlet reported last year that Chinese firm BGI was cloning on an industrial level in the city of Shenzhen, said to be producing 500 cloned pigs per year.
The planned cloning factory is built in partnership with Sooam Biotech, a South Korean firm run by Seoul-based Hwang Woo-suk. Hwang, once dubbed the “king of cloning,” was found guilty in 2006 of fraud and gross ethical lapses in his research and ways of obtaining human eggs for his lab work.
In a conference call held on Thursday, Nov. 26, Xu tried to quash anxieties over the new project and the technology behind it.
“Clone technology is already around us. It’s just that not everyone knows about it,” he said, citing that bananas and strawberries sold in Chinese grocery stores were produced by this very technology. He likened the process to “pouring a glass of orange juice into another empty glass,” implying that the cloned product will be an exact copy of the original one. He also noted that cloned beef is the “tastiest” beef he has ever had.
In the United Kingdom, cloned cow meat and milk products are classified as “novel foods” and need to come with a special permission to be sold. The Food Standards Agency in 2010 investigated beef coming from the offspring of a cow cloned in the U.S. entering the food chain.
The European Food Safety Authority — while pointing out no difference between meat and dairy from clones and conventionally raised animals — said cloning may lead to animal health and welfare issues. It underlined the impact the process has on the increasing number of deaths at all stages of development.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled cloned animals as safe to eat. Although the Chinese cloning factory operation appeard to be smaller than American firms seeking to sell cloned livestock, most cloned cattle in the U.S. serve as breeding stock for raising herd quality rather than for food supply.
Photo : Alistair Young | Flickr