Boyalife Group has announced plans to construct a commercial-scale animal cloning factory by mid-2016. As the world’s largest cloning center, Boyalife intends to answer China’s growing demand for beef by cloning cattle at a massive scale. The company “will produce 100,000 cattle embryos a year initially, eventually increasing to 1 million,” said Xu Xiaochun, board chairman of Boyalife Group, in a recent press release.
The news comes less than two decades after Dolly, the first successfully cloned animal, was born in Britain in 1996. Since then, scientists in China have successfully cloned a variety of animals, including mice, cattle, and pigs. In fact, Boyalife’s factory won’t be China’s first animal cloning factory. The Chinese company BGI has been cloning pigs since 2014. Producing 500 clones per year, a majority of the pigs are used in animal research. If Boyalife’s factory follows BGI’s design, surrogate cattle will undergo invasive surgery in an assembly-line fashion. A cloned embryo will be surgically implanted into a surrogate cow, often genetically identical to the implanted fetus. Boyalife’s scientists could also genetically manipulate embryos to modify traits like disease resistance or growth rate in cloned cattle.
While there are no large-scale cloning facilities in the US, the FDA concluded in 2008 that meat from cloned animals is safe for consumption and requires no special labeling. For now, costs have kept livestock clones rare. In the US, clones are generally used for breeding while their offspring become the food-producing stock. However, animal welfare groups argue that the cloning process causes adverse health effects in both surrogate animals and their clone offspring. Many clones are born with congenital defects as a result of incomplete reprogramming of cloned DNA. As a result cloned animals have drastically shortened lifespan. Additionally, surrogate mothers and their offspring are often given large doses of hormones and antibiotics to improve clone survival rate, likely increasing the prevalence of these drugs in the food supply.
According to the Guardian, Boyalife will also offer services to clone pet dogs, race horses, and endangered species to rescue them from extinction. However, initially the company will focus its efforts on cloned cattle. No word on how Boyalife intends to temper the environmental impact of producing 1 million cattle per year – animal industry remains a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions, water waste and other environmental woes.