In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and Cloning are two technologies, emerging as potential solutions to get high quality foods from animals. But how far these foods are free from any future health problems is a matter of conjecture. The raging controversy regarding the safety of GM foods is an example of a modern technology caught in the web of uncertainties because of lack of unanimity amongst scientific communities in different countries regarding any likely long term health consequences by the consumption of foods produced by the new technology. What is not clearly understood by the vast majority of people concerned with the safety of IVF and cloned animals is that these technologies are too expensive to be used widely for producing commonly consumed animal based foods. The cloning cost for a cow is about $17000 while for pigs it is more than $ 4000. If this is true what is the issue about which people are concerned? It is all about the safety of the products from the off springs of the cloned mother.
Breeding and reproduction are the at the very core of animal derived food chain and quality and safety of these products depend very much on the parent stock and breeding technology. IVF was first used in rabbits in 1959 and later in 1968 first IVF lab mouse was created. First human baby was born in 1978, commonly referred to as test tube baby as the embryo was developed in the lab before implantation. First live calf through IVF arrived in 1981 and this technology is widely used for improving and expanding genetics. A genetically superior cow can be produced from an inferior one using IVF technology and subsequent generations are expected to inherit the vastly improved qualities of the former. Basically IVF is a procedure that involves retrieving eggs (oocytes) and sperm from the male and female and placing them together in a lab dish to facilitate fertilization. Fertilized eggs are then allowed to develop in vitro and after several days, transferred into females reproductive tract for further development of the embryo. The animals produced through IVF possess superior traits that are desirable and further propagation by normal process provides a better quality source for better products derived from them. IVF, thus, is a route to produce better performing animal generations by the breeders.
Reproductive cloning, an extension of the IVF technology, is based on the process of 'somatic cell nuclear transfer' (SCNT) that is part of the assisted reproduction technologies (ARTs) currently used in agriculture. Many mistakenly believe that cloned animals are genetically modified which is not true. SCNT transfers genetic material from the nucleus of a donor adult cell to an egg whose nucleus has been removed. The reconstructed egg containing the DNA of the donor cell has to be treated with chemicals or electric current in order to stimulate cell division. Cloned embryos need to be transferred to the uterus of a female host to develop till birth. Clones from cattle, swines, sheep, goat and many animal species have been produced in significant numbers all over the world and safety authorities in USA, Canada, Japan and several other countries have cleared commercialization of the technology having found no risks in consuming products from the off springs of cloned parents. How ever cloning is beset with some logistical and practical problems like low rate of success compared to sexually derived products. Dolly, the first cloned sheep, was a result of 275 unsuccessful attempts and it lived for 6 years as against the normal life span of 12 years though it became mother of 6 off springs during its life time.
According to FAO almost one third of global meat trade is affected by one or the other animal diseases and it considers this a lost business to the tune of $ 10 billion out of $ 35 billion total world exports. USA and Canada account for more than 25% of world beef production and they have a heavy stake in cattle breeding free from diseases. For developing countries like India cloning provides a viable route to upgrade its population of buffaloes, cows, sheep and pigs, provided the safety issues are resolved to the satisfaction of our scientists, administrators and consumers. Better, higher and cheaper milk production can be one area of immense interest,more than the meat products, as a vast majority of people in the country depend on milk for their essential nutrition. Meat exports, which fetch good returns to the livestock sector, can also benefit by evolving disease-free animals which will have far lesser problems in meeting ever-stiffening global quality and safety standards.