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The rising price of beef


Arizona Daily Wildcat

By Deron Overpeck
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
January 14, 2000
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Two advances in cloning have recently come to light. First, the University of Connecticut and Japanese beef giant Kogashima announced they cloned four bulls using ordinary skin cells from an old bull. Then, Oregon researchers announced they have cloned a rhesus monkey by splitting an embryo. These developments solve many technical difficulties of cloning, and force us to question the wisdom of pursuing a science and way of thinking that reduce life to malleable material to be mass-produced.

Previously, clones were made from young female reproductive cells. The Connecticut geneticists cloned animals from skin cells kept in storage for months. The success rate has increased from one surviving clone out of 100 to one survivor out of 30. Cloned cells now can be kept alive long enough to be genetically altered with greater likelihood of viable results, which is what geneticists want. The point is not simply to clone - why have two garden-variety sheep around? - but to manipulate the cells' genetic structure to create a creature with qualities deemed desirable by the cloner.

Kogashima is interested in the breakthrough because of its use in beef production. The cloned cells can be genetically tampered to produce better-tasting beef.

Before we salivate over more delectable steaks, let's think through what the real appeal of cloning is, and to whom it is appealing. Besides carnivorous gourmands, other interested parties include medical conglomerates excited by the possibilities for organ harvesting and infertility treatment. These companies salivate over the potential profits to be reaped from providing the means by which nature and human irresponsibility can be overcome.

Pigs are probably next to be cloned, because their organs are similar to humans. Geneticists could produce a warehouse of disease-resistant organs ready for transplant into humans with organs failing due to illness, natural decline or abuse. An alcoholic who had destroyed his liver could have it replaced with a healthy pig liver. Arguments that a transplant organ should not go to a person who has neglected his original won't be as persuasive: If cloning means healthy donor organs won't be scarce, why not give one to the alcoholic? We can always grow more.

The implications for infertility treatment are most troubling. Because the new technique makes cloning easier and more successful, it makes human cloning more possible. Infertile parents could offer up skin cells and pay to have an embryo cloned. And, to our current way of thinking, if money could be made from something, it should be done. "As soon as the probability reaches the same level as normal conception, then from an ethical point of view, you have to find a new argument," geneticist and cloning pioneer Mario Capecchi argues.

Cloning opens up the possibility of designer children. Although federal law currently prohibits human cloning, Capecchi believes it will develop in the private sector. Driven by simple greed, private companies won't be dissuaded by ethical concerns when parents decide to clone a "perfect" child. Genes suspected of "causing" big noses, homosexuality, attention deficit disorder or other "undesirable" traits could be treated, so no parent would ever have to suffer a child who deviates from what society considers beautiful or normal. If parents are willing to pay for that right, why shouldn't they be allowed to? And why shouldn't companies be allowed to make money from honoring their desires?

Here's two reasons: One, cloning will exacerbate overpopulation. More people will live longer thanks to new organs, and more people will have children, placing a greater strain on dwindling resources. The cold fact is -we're supposed to die. Some persons simply are not meant to reproduce. The world evolved into a system where life forms lived, flourished and died, opening up space for new life-forms. Reproduction for the sake of reproduction violates that system.

Two, cloning makes life something desirable only for its utility. Animals will be cloned because simply because they are for something. Humans will be cloned to ensure only socially acceptable characteristics survive. In fact, humans could be cloned to reap their genetically treated organs. Why should the profit potential of organ harvesting be limited by outlawing human cloning? In a system where money is a reason to do anything, all ethical limitations are ultimately meaningless.

What the recent developments make clear are our assumptions about what are acceptable motivations. Although cloning other animals for human desires may seem innocuous, it demonstrates that any life form can be exploited for whatever reason for monetary gain. Today's bull is tomorrow's human. That makes the price of beef a lot more expensive than we think.

Deron Overpeck is a graduate student in Media Arts. He can be reached at editor@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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