Livestock cloning not worth the hype November 9, 2013 • Denise Anderson
Iran into Alvin the other day, and he was raving about the latest in hog production techniques, but I couldn’t understand why he was so excited.
“They’ll all be the same,” he said. “All of my pigs will look the same, act the same and grow at the same speed. It’s a wonderful idea, no doubt about it.”
“Hog clones,” I replied. “Look out there, Alvin, what do you see?”
Alvin looked out across the pens of pigs, all rooting around the feed troughs. “I see hogs,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “My hogs, as a matter of fact.”
“That’s right, and what color are they?”
“White,” he said.
“Right. So can you point out the litter that big sow of yours had just before the first of the year?” I asked.
Alvin stuttered for a few minutes, then had to admit that he couldn’t do it because all looked alike and acted alike and were basically growing at the same rate.
Most new ideas sound good at the time, especially to the person who thought them up. Hog clones probably fit into that category.
The problem with Alvin’s hogs, and most hogs today, is that they already look alike, at least to the naked eye, and hog producers work daily to try and make them that way underneath because that’s what consumers want.
I’ve always had trouble telling one hog from another, and cows aren’t much easier. They are either black, red or white or some combination thereof. The same goes for pigs. Different breeds are different colors and have different characteristics but are fairly uniform within each breed because of stricter breeding policies.
Durocs are red and tend to be poorer mothers because they have a mean streak, but they grow fast and produce a lean carcass. Hampshires are distinguished by their black and white appearance and also are good meat producers. The white hogs – Landrace or Large White breeds – make better mothers, so hog producers are using those to produce their litters. Market animals are usually a cross between all four in order to get the best marketable product.
Regardless, most still look pretty much alike.
Scientists in Missouri are studying the hog cloning idea, apparently so researchers could more easily study things like feed rations and reproductive development.
That sounds good, but I’m not sure the cost involved in transferring nuclei from 3-to 4- day-old pig embryos to unfertilized eggs and then to surrogate mothers can justify the results in the hog lot operated by the average farmer. Scientists claim they can repeat the process indefinitely until they have as many clones as they want.
They say they can go one step further and once they embryos are produced, freeze them until they’re sure those are the pigs they want. I’m not convinced. Maybe it was the scary movie on television last weekend that showed what can happen when you start messing around with genetics.
Alvin’s spirit wasn’t dampened by my gloomy predictions.
“I still think it sounds like a wonderful idea, and I already know I can justify the cost,” Alvin said. “Of course, I managed to justify that addition to the hog barn that houses the sauna, weight room and indoor swimming pool. Don’t tell my accountant, though; he still has it labeled as a washroom.”
I wrote this almost 25 years ago, and cloning on a commercial basis still hasn’t happened. It’s still not practical, but it has cleared the way for cell cloning, which has given way to human application, such as growing new organs, even ears.