Is my steak a clone?

SPOT THE CLONE? Heartbeat investigates the future of beef production with cloning.
SPOT THE CLONE? Heartbeat investigates the future of beef production with cloning.

WORKING at events in the Centre this past month has seen me eat a steak for tea more often than not.

Last night the barbecue chef cooked a beauty.

Having earlier seen the beef news from Queensland, however, I couldn't help but wonder whether I was eating cloned meat?

Chances were slim, I knew, but would I know the difference if it was?

Still fresh in my mind 17 years after the film's debut was Arnold Schwarzenegger, accidently cloned in The 6th Day where his double shacks up with his wife and clones threaten to take over the world.

I decided to investigate further. Interest in cloning ballooned after the successful birth of "Dolly" the cloned sheep in Scotland in 1996.

Despite becoming the world's most famous animal, living a pampered existence in Edinburgh, and producing normal offspring, Dolly's short life was no picnic.

She suffered from arthritis and a lung tumour common among sheep raised indoors, so was euthanased aged only six and a half (sheep live to age 11 or 12). Nevertheless, more like Dolly soon arrived as owners put up pets and prize-winning breeders to be cloned.

In 2000 scientists at the South Australian Research Institute produced their own version of Dolly in the merino lamb Matilda, which bore three healthy lambs the following year.

In 2007, "Mini" the Brahman became Australia's first cloned beef cow, produced in central Queensland at a cost of $30,000.

There have even been reports (largely unconfirmed) of cloned human babies, including one named Eve in 2002, sparking outcry over an event widely declared illegal.

This week, an "Eve" of another ilk lumbered back on to news screens.

Born in 2013, Eve is a clone of Telpara Hills Miss Csonka, part of a stock of breeders at Oaklands Brangus Stud, Kalapa.

Eve has reportedly had two calves and 15 via embryo, and will soon be offered for sale at the National Brangus Sale.

Generally speaking, cloning is expensive, so ideas of production lines delivering cloned meat to a fleet of waiting trucks are unlikely to bear fruit.

However, Eve was made from a 'handmade cloning' process, using a dissecting microscope and micro blade to dissect and reconstruct the embryo.

Developed in 2013 by Professor Gábor Vajta, the method was hailed a beef industry game changer for its promise to reproduce elite genetics for around 10% of beast value.

Now industry observers are wondering if cloning might go big.

Food products from cloned animals and their offspring are "as safe as food products from conventionally bred animals", says The US Food and Drug Administration, the European Food Safety Authority and the Japan Food Safety Commission.

Australia has accepted these findings, although, while cloning has already gone big in Brazil, Argentina and the USA, it remains small fry here.

An estimated 30-40 cloned cattle roam Aussie paddocks, which Food Standards Australia and New Zealand says are for breeding purposes only, with no food products from them in the supply chain.

But, says the FSANZ, "Food products from their offspring are almost certainly in the food supply."

Further, produce from cloned animals "does not require pre-market approval in Australia and New Zealand before entering the food supply and no special labelling requirements apply."

There are problems, nevertheless, such as Large Offspring Syndrome that can make birthing difficult, and a host of animal welfare issues outlined by the RSPCA.

And consumer backlash may yet prove a factor.

Topics:  alice springs farming glenn morrison heartbeat meat and livestock australia national brangus sale northern territory rural steak

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