The fact that a U.S. cow has been recently cloned on a British farm has brought additional scrutiny to the issue. The impact of genetically modified and cloned animals is huge, according to Nottingham University applied bioethics professor Ben Mepham.
"The question of whether humanity should take it upon ourselves to alter animals by G.M., involving in many cases mixing the genes of different species -- and sometimes those of human origin -- is undoubtedly critical for many people," said Mepham, a former Agriculture, Environment Biotechnology Commission member.
While genetically modifying the farm creatures into "animal zombies" might reduce the pain and stress of factory farming, Mepham said that fact did not immediately justify the process. He noted that, in the past, many cloning and genetic experiments on animals have lead to offspring that grow too quickly and have to be surgically removed from mothers.
The AEBC asked the British government to set up a body to regulate genetic modification and cloning as it pertains to farming in 2002. Such a body, they said, was needed to avoid a repeat of the problems with British G.M. crops, which were on the market before research could show definitively whether or not they were safe. The commission added that genetically creating animals that would not find factory-farming conditions stressful should be banned and that genetically modified animals should be farmed separately and their food products should be separately labeled so consumers can choose whether or not to buy them. Soon afterwards, in the wake of several challenges of government policy on G.M. crops and food by the AEBC, the government shut the commission down.
Experts predict that genetically altered and/or cloned animal food products could be sold to Britons in about two years.
"Cloning raises animal welfare concerns, both for the clones and for their parents," said Dr. Tom MacMillan, executive director of the Food Ethics Council. "It also underlines how far removed industrial food production is from what consumers actually want."
Mepham also noted that religious groups would stand opposed to further genetic manipulation as it seemed like "an attempt to usurp God's role," and others would likely see it as an attempt to alter the natural order in a fundamental way.