By WAYNE PACELLE
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Last year, a kitten named Little Nicky was cloned to duplicate a Dallas woman's deceased pet. Now we have Snuppy, an Afghan hound created by researchers in South Korea. It is reported that the scientists transferred 1,095 cloned embryos into 123 dogs before they produced a live birth from a Labrador retriever surrogate "mother."
The births were hailed by Genetic Savings & amp; Clone, the playfully named company that has emerged to sell cloned animals to devoted pet owners.
With the cloning of dogs and cats, we have moved from laboratory to commercial application. And while the intentions of pet owners might be decent, the practice is rife with hazard.
There are many practical problems with pet cloning, not the least of which is that the genetic duplicate might turn out to act, and even look, different from its forebear. Each creature is more than an embodiment of its DNA.
More to the point, with millions of healthy and adoptable cats and dogs being killed each year for lack of suitable homes, it is a little frivolous to be cloning departed pets.
Behind the cloned puppy and kitten are far grander schemes to clone animals for use in agriculture and research. Before such projects become the norm, we should all pause and think carefully about where it is all leading -- for animals and for humanity.
It was big news in 1996 when scientists in Scotland announced the cloning of Dolly the sheep. This new technology marked a decisive moment in our ability to manipulate the natural world to suit our designs.
Dolly died in 2003, afflicted by a lung disease that typically occurs in much older sheep. Since her dramatic birth, and her pitiful and accelerated decline, scientists have turned out clones of mice, rabbits, goats, pigs, cows and now cats and dogs.
Behind every heralded success are hundreds of monstrous failures.
As all of this has unfolded, policymakers have stood idly by, placing almost no legal restraints on corporations and scientists tinkering with the most fundamental elements of biology.
Biotech companies and their allies in agribusiness also have won approval from the Food and Drug Administration to sell commercial clones as food. Like pet cloning, the cloning of farm animals is monumentally unnecessary.
Farmers already produce so much meat that they must find export markets to turn a profit. As for the animals in our factory farms, cloning is the final assault on their well-being and dignity.
When the FDA held a public consultation on animal cloning in November 2003, researchers reported a graphic list of problems for clones and their surrogate mothers in cattle, pigs, sheep and goats -- a string of developmental abnormalities and a host of deaths before, during and after birth.
Congress and regulatory bodies must weigh in; many of the ethical concerns raised by human cloning apply here too. Such questions should not be left entirely to scientists and corporations, with their intellectual and commercial stakes in these projects.
Humanity's progress is not always defined by scientific innovation alone. Cloning -- human and animal -- is one of those cases in which progress is defined by the exercise of wisdom and of self-restraint.
X Pacelle is president of the Humane Society of the United States.