China is hungry for beef — and to keep up with the demand for red meat, the nation of 1.4 billion people will soon be feasting on cloned cows. A Chinese commercial genetics company is set to be the first to clone cattle on an industrial scale, reports Popular Science.
BoyaLife announced its plans last week via press release to establish a $30 million "commercial animal cloning center" in the northeastern city of Tianjin. There, the company intends to produce 100,000 head of cloned cattle annually — "more than 6 times the size of the largest American cattle farms," PopSci points out — with plans to eventually produce 1 million cows per year. (In addition to cows for food, the cloning center will also produce police dogs and pet dogs, as well as race horses.)
While the technology to clone animals is far from new — Dolly the famed sheep was born back in 1996 — and here in the U.S. the FDA has previously stated that eating cloned animals is perfectly safe, the process certainly has its fair share of opponents worldwide that take issue with the ethics of cloning. The European Union banned the cloning of livestock in September, citing animal welfare concerns.
If eating cloned meat sounds a little too sci-fi for you to consider putting it on your dinner table, consider this: You may already be eating it. While the FDA insists "Dairy, beef, or pork clones make up only a tiny fraction of the total number of food producing animals in the United States," there's really no way to know for sure whether you're eating it or not, as the federal government does not require food labels to disclose whether meat comes from an animal that has been cloned or one that's been conventionally raised.
With U.S. beef prices at an all-time high, perhaps it's not so crazy to think that cloned beef on a larger scale could become a viable option to fuel America's love of steak and burgers — although a 2010 report on American consumers' attitudes toward livestock cloning indicated that only 31 percent were willing to eat products from cloned animals. At this point, however, less than a thousand cloned cattle are thought to exist in the U.S., and due to the high price associated with the technology, they're reserved for breeding rather than eating.
But cloning beef doesn't do anything to mitigate the incredible amount of resources that raising livestock requires. Is lab-grown beef a more attractive option than clones? The high-tech option is rapidly becoming more affordable to produce, and is estimated to hit the market in the next five years.