Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Does Africa need cloned animals - or am I missing something?


Calestous Juma argues on the BBC website that Africans need cloned animals to generate their meat products. He claims that cloned animals would be more likely to survive in the harsh African climate. Juma is, and here I quote from the BBC's website, 'Calestous Juma is a professor of international development at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and co-chairs a high-level expert panel of the African Union on modern biotechnology'. A lot of heavy-weight competence and business class airfares, that much is certain. Anyway, I shouldn't bitch too much - have been there, done that (well, the junket trips). Juma's argument strikes me as odd. He acknowledges that cloned animals tend to be more likely to suffer serious health problems (read: die faster, die younger), and that they also happen to be much more expensive than the average local cow that came about by her parents doing ... (well, you get the drift). Everyone knows these days that meat production is hugely inefficient in terms of how much energy we have to invest and how much we eventually get out of it. Many more Africans could be fed by means of local produce if no meat production took place on that continent at all.

Juma can think of another good reason why cloning is so important, namely because African nations could utilise such competence to eventually clone animals from species that are on the verge of extinction. No doubt that is just what Africans would do, at least those Africans that desperately need cloned cows so they can feed themselves. However, in all fairness, he's got a point when he stresses that joint research partnerships between developed and developing countries would increase biotech capacity on the African continent. That indeed is a very worthwhile thing, even if it is probably wasted on trying to clone cows for Sudan.

Please do note that I am not at all making a case for or against utilising sentient animals as a food product. The argument against is overwhelmingly strong, but my doubts about cloning for Africa are unrelated to that case.

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