Cloned cattle set to revolutionize beef, milk markets


Sat, Aug 25, 2001 - Page 17

The future has arrived. Milk and T-bone steaks from cloned cattle or from herds boosted by cloned animals are all just a blink away.

A herd of cloned cattle in the rolling dairyland of Wisconsin in the US has just been brought into milk production.

China will give birth to its first cloned cow in January.

And an Australian-New Zealand company aims to run off copies of top breeding bulls for export to the world -- as well as copy elite animals from Britain and elsewhere to guard against gene destruction because of foot and mouth disease.

Cloning promises to revolutionise the multi-billion dollar beef and dairy markets, its advocates say.

Critics urge caution and voice worries about the health and welfare of the cloned animals.

The company, Clone International, which is backed by a group of entrepreneurial scientists, bought an exclusive licence for the technology that in 1997 produced the world's first cloned animal, Dolly the sheep.

Cattle will be first off the production line. But Clone International also hopes to clone the world's first horse.

"Most people ... say `so you're going to produce 50 Phar Laps are you?'" Clone International chief Richard Fry said, referring to the champion Australian racehorse of the 1930s.

Not quite. The Dolly technique requires live tissue, and Phar Lap is long dead. Cloning horses is also, so far, extremely hard. But cloning cattle is here and now. "We think it's a huge market," Fry said.

The company's first cattle clone, a Holstein dairy bull, will be born in a month or so. A couple of top cloned bulls are due to be born every month from then on, from 15 pregnancies now in progress.

This puts it at the forefront of commercial cloning.

The proven Dolly technology, purchased by U.S. biopharmaceutical giant Geron Corp in 1999 from Scotland's Roslin Institute, is otherwise licenced to only a few in the US and Britain.

In partnership with cloning company AgResearch, Clone International expects to produce every year about five elite animals, for dairy bull semen production, for the Australian and New Zealand domestic markets.

Initial demand for exported clones is seen at 10-20 a year.

The potential is huge. China alone has 4.5 million genetically poor Holstein dairy cattle, Fry said. And China's government is keen that schoolchildren drink more milk.

Poor genetics is also an issue with millions of cattle in India and Bangladesh.

"Access to genetics straight away ... would have a huge impact on their industries," Fry said.

As well as selling the genetics of antipodean cattle, among the best in the world, Fry's cloning company aims to export the purity of disease-free Australian farmlands.

Fry believes developing countries in Asia, the Indian subcontinent and South America, as well as developed countries in Europe and North America, will be attracted by the low costs of clones.

It costs around A$200,000 (US$104,000) to clone a bull, compared with a market price of A$500,000 to A$2 million for an original elite Holstein.