I'm a pro-science guy. When the late Dolly was in the news as the first cloned sheep, I thought it was exciting. I'm all for stem cell research. I think it would be great if animal cloning or genetic research leads to curing human diseases. This is perhaps one of the few areas in which I don't feel paranoid. I'm not worried about the alleged "slippery slope" that calls up images of scientists in darkened basements eventually grinding out "Xeroxes" of humans. And yet, eating a burger from a cloned steer seems a bit weird to me.
I know we've been eating vegetables that have been "genetically engineered" for decades. There have been hybrids that produce bigger and tastier vegetables. Some plants are being bred to resist the effects of herbicides or disease. And I imagine that agricultural experts can produce two identical rhubarbs if they want to. So, why doesn't science messing around with nature bother me when it comes to plants?
For the same reason that it doesn't bother most people — because we aren't plants. Even in this age that has somehow produced people who don't believe in evolution, most folks feel a closer affinity to animals than to plants. That's why an organization like PETA exists, but there is no "People for the Ethical Treatment of Plants." It's not just because PETP makes a bad acronym. It's because even though vegetables are living, breathing things, eating them or experimenting with them doesn't cause the same reaction in even the most radical thinkers. You don't hear about pro-vegetable people interrupting the Secretary of Agriculture, and protesting by dumping fertilizer over him.
For some years now, there has been a voluntary moratorium in the agriculture and food industry on selling cloned food. Despite the FDA's finding of nothing wrong with food from cloned animals, they didn't urge an immediate lifting of the moratorium. They said a more definite report would come out in the near future — maybe in a few months, maybe in a year. If their scientific evidence found nothing wrong, why didn't they just say, "Farmers, start your cloning?" My theory is because, as with me, it just seems a little weird to them. And it's going to take time for many of us to get used to the idea.
I think we'll have that time. With the current technology, cloning is very expensive. A cloned calf can sell for as much as $82,000, which is about $81,000 more than a typical non-cloned calf. All kinds of genetic science have to come into play to make a cloned calf. To make a regular calf, all you need is a male, a female, maybe some romantic music, and a little moonlight over the barn.
I assume the price tag of cloning will come down. Most technological things do. Look how cheap computers are today compared to, well, the day before yesterday. And once the cloning price comes down, I understand how helpful this scientific advance may be to the world.
A single cow may produce enough cloned offspring to give milk to a large needy area or even to an entire country. A rancher will be able to keep his Blue Ribboned prize steer, providing the best possible meat for consumers — over and over again.
In fact, consumers will be able to buy precisely the cuts of meat that they like best. Soon, you'll be telling the butcher things like, "I'd like a pound of ground cloned steer #167 and some #617 chops, please." And they'll taste just like the last 167 and 617 you bought.
So by the time cloning is practical, I'm sure I'll get used to the idea. I guess we all will. But we'll probably also have to get used to kids — and other family members — saying things like, "Not again. We had the exact same thing for dinner last night." And they'll mean the exact same thing.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. So far as we know, he has eaten none of them.
By Lloyd Garver