Proof is in the progeny

August 15, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

WILLIAMSPORT- Starlite looks, smells, sounds and acts like any normal calf.

And that's Williamsport-area dairy farmer Greg Wiles' point.

More than three years after cloning Zita, the top U.S.-ranked Holstein in 1997, the government still hasn't given Wiles and others with cloned animals the OK to allow the clones, their offspring or their food byproducts, such as milk, into the food chain.

At a standstill and losing money on his $60,000 investment in the two clones, Wiles decided to try a research project to help prove to the federal government that cloning is safe.

The result is Starlite, the offspring of Zita-clone Genesis and the clone of a late world-famous bull named Hanoverhill Starbuck in Canada.


"The whole reason for this calf being born was the research process, that cloned parents can actually produce a normal, healthy offspring," Wiles said.

"If the calf is healthy, why wouldn't the byproducts be safe?" Wiles asked.

Starlite, whose formal name is Futuraland C2C Starlite Z, was born March 2 on the Futuraland Farm on Big Bend Way southwest of Williamsport that Wiles and his wife, Becky, own. Starlite was conceived through artificial insemination and delivered naturally by her true mother, Genesis. Genesis also has produced a heifer and two bulls via embryos implanted in surrogate mothers.

Starlite is doing great, Wiles said. He plans to enter her in the Maryland State Fair, scheduled Aug. 27 to Sept. 6 in Timonium, Md.

"Our hope is to branch out the family," Wiles said.

Clones bring hope

The original Zita was a great milk producer and produced six generations of high-quality cows and bulls, Wiles said. Her death on March 2, 2001, from a broken vertebra ended hope of branching the family line beyond Zita's natural descendants.

The clones gave new life to that hope.

High-quality stock helps the 200-acre farm, which makes money from producing milk and selling embryos and bulls.

But shortly after the February 2001 birth of Zita's clones, Genesis and Cyagra (named for the company that cloned her), the federal government asked companies to voluntarily withhold animal clones and their offspring from the market, Wiles said.

So Wiles has been milking the clones twice a day, only to dump the milk. He also cannot sell embryos from the clones that breeders could use to improve their herds.

Embryos may be sold as long as the buyers are told not to put meat or milk from the resulting animals into the food supply, according to an e-mail from Linda A. Grassie, public information specialist for the Food and Drug Administration/Center for Veterinary Medicine.

That defeats the purpose of buying the embryos, so there's no market, Wiles said.

FDA officials hope to publish risk assessment and risk management plans concerning products from cloned animals "in the not too distant future," but they don't know when, Grassie wrote. Until then, the voluntary moratorium remains in effect.

'$30,000 hamburger'

So far, there is no evidence that food from cloned animals poses an increased risk to consumers, according to a report issued July 27 from The National Academies' National Research Council and Institute of Medicine.

The National Academies were asked by the FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess the potential for adverse health effects from genetically engineered foods, such as food from cloned animals, compared with foods altered in other ways. The academies also were asked to provide guidance on how to identify and evaluate the likelihood of such effects.

Safety evaluation of food from cloned animals should focus on the food and not the process used to create the food, according to a press release on the National Academies' report.

Even with this bit of good news, Wiles is frustrated by government officials' slow pace in making a decision and because they haven't asked him for blood or milk samples from his clones.

He said he's tried faxing and calling the FDA, offering blood and milk samples, but has not received a response.

Grassie wrote that the FDA asked major clone producers, such as Cyagra, to get blood samples from the clones they could trace. The FDA also asked all clone producers and owners for meat or milk composition data.

Wiles said he does not want to slaughter a clone to provide meat to the FDA.

"That'd be a very expensive hamburger," Wiles said. "That's a $30,000 hamburger."

Wiles said he had not been asked for any blood or milk samples or milk composition data and he was not aware of Cyagra being asked for samples from his clones either.

Wiles said he would think federal government officials would be aware of Starlite, but they have not asked how she is doing.

Wiles said he doesn't want to enter food from the clones into the food chain until he has federal approval.

"I think it's just the word clone that scares people more than anything," Wiles said.

Seeking an answer

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