for National Geographic News
Animal-rights activists stunned pet-cloning companies last week by seeking both state and federal restrictions on the small but growing industry.
The American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), a Pennsylvania organization that monitors the treatment of animals in laboratories, worked with California Assemblyman Lloyd Levine to introduce a bill to ban the transport and sale of cloned and genetically modified pets in California.
If the bill passes, it will be the first of its kind in the United States.
In recent years science has raced ahead to create unique breeds of pets. Today animal lovers can buy clones of dearly deceased cats, or newly engineered red fluorescent fish for their aquariums. Soon, hypoallergenic felinescats that have little likelihood of causing an allergic reaction in humanswill be available.
The AAVS accused pet-cloning companies of operating behind a veil of secrecy. It also requested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulate the companies like it does research laboratories that must comply with the Animal Welfare Act, which sets minimum standards of animal care and use.
Lou Hawthorne, CEO of Genetic Savings and Clone in Sausalito, California, said the company's internal animal-welfare protocols are higher than any that the government employs.
"I find it impossible to imagine that government oversight would constrain our activities," he said. "In that sense we welcome it."
The company began cloning cats last February for owners who were willing to plunk down U.S. $50,000. The price since then has dropped to $32,000.
So far, two kittens have been delivered to paying clients. Three more are expected within the next few months. This year the company also hopes to duplicate dogs.
In a press conference Crystal Miller-Spiegel, senior policy analyst for the AAVS, warned of the health risks involved in cloning. "Scientists widely agree that animal cloning is plagued by high death rates and causes deformities, diseases, and other serious medical conditions," she said. "Even the newer technology being employed, such as chromatin transfer, result in high rates of miscarriage and significant numbers of stillborn animals."
Given that only a small number of cloned cats have been born in recent years, she said, there is no long-term data to demonstrate that they will live average, healthy life spans.
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