Don't have a cow


The Food Standards Agency created a considerable row when it announced this week that meat from a cow born in the United Kingdom from the imported embryos of a cloned American cow was sold and consumed last year. British and European regulations prohibit the sale of products intended for human consumption from cloned animals without prior authorisation, which has never been granted. The discovery incensed animal rights activists, and public outrage has erupted due to deep mistrust of cloned and genetically modified food, as well as the failure of the Food Standards Agency to detect the products in a timely manner. Two lessons can be learned from the issue.

First, the issue highlights the inability of the government to regulate effectively, even in matters as trivial and simple as the one at hand. That the farmer involved in the controversy, Steven Innes, appears not to have tried to circumvent the law, further highlights the elusiveness of effective regulation. If the government is unable to draw up intelligible and enforceable regulations on mundane issues, it is unlikely that it will be able to fare much better with more complex regulatory schemes.

Second, it is high time that Britain and the European Union become more accepting of scientific advancements that have improved, and will continue to improve, agricultural productivity. Cloning of animals is one such improvement. Farmers and scientists in the United States have experimented with the cloning of animals in order to increase milk and meat production. Meat and other products from cloned animals have proven to be just as safe as products from naturally conceived animals, and the cloning of animals does not affect any other individuals other than those who choose to produce and consume such products. If the ban were lifted, those who do not wish to buy products derived from cloned animals would remain free to do so, the costs of related regulation would be eliminated, and agricultural productivity could improve.

The shock over the cloned cow should be over the observation that there was shock at all. That Britain outlaws a non-offensive and potentially productive enterprise that is successfully practiced elsewhere in the world without incident is unfortunate, and harms the country and its farmers.