Animal Aid


Posted 11 January 2007
Cloned cows

The news that the offspring of a cloned cow are now being reared in Britain signals a dramatic escalation in the drive to extract maximum profit from dairy animals by any means.

One calf reared from the embryo of a Wisconsin cloned adult was born last month to a UK-based surrogate mother and is being kept on a Shropshire farm. Three more calves from the same cloned mother are due to be born in the UK in the next few weeks.

A fifth calf was miscarried at seven months with malformed organs - a not unexpected outcome given that cloning routinely results in a high level of miscarriage, abnormalities and serious health defects in the offspring who do survive.

The objective of those developing and funding the new cloning technologies is to exploit the reproductive potential as well as the meat and milk 'productivity' of farmed animals who - not least dairy animals - are often being forced to function at their biological limits.

While cows are in the news this week, goats, chickens, sheep, pigs and fish are already being genetically manipulated - with increased 'output' as the goal.

It is especially alarming that dairy animals should be the focus of the cloning speculators, because cows are already being forced to produce extreme volumes of milk and are consequently suffering high levels of disease and physiological breakdown.

Each year, 170,000 calves die in their first month of life (1) and at least 250,000 adult cattle die or are killed annually (2) because of conditions associated with neglect, filth and intensification. These include mastitis, diarrhoea, infertility and lameness.

More than 85% of the national dairy herd is endemically infected with bovine viral diarrhoea (3) and around 40% suffer the painful udder condition, mastitis, every year. (4) Some 20% of dairy cows are lame at any one time and 50% may expect to go lame in any one year. (5)

Through artificial insemination and embryo transfer technology, cows are kept pregnant ten months of the year so that the milk flow stays constant. For around seven of these months they are simultaneously pregnant and giving milk - an enormous physical burden.

A hard working Friesian - who will feed on a combination of pasture and high protein products - produces a formidable 35-40 litres of milk every day. But 60 litres daily (105 pints) is extracted from the 'high genetic merit' Holstein (4). The Shropshire calf is from Holstein 'stock'.

Increasingly, dairy animals are subjected to 'zero grazing' regimes, whereby hundreds are packed together in sheds with concrete floors and move about outside only in 'loafing yards'. Around 10% of cows in the UK are zero grazed but they already produce some 30% of the total milk yield (6).

'According to the three most important indices of fitness - fertility, mastitis and lameness - dairy cows are getting worse,' notes John Webster, emeritus professor of animal husbandry at the University of Bristol. (5)

Says Webster: 'Years ago, an average cow might expect a productive life of six lactations. In many of the highest yielding herds of barn-fed cows, average life expectancy has become two lactations or less and the cows are being culled because they have broken down. In many cases, this breakdown involves real suffering.'

  1. 'Report on the welfare of dairy cattle', Farm Animal Welfare Council, 1997
  2. 'Rethink health strategies', Sibley, R, Farmers Weekly, February 28, 2003
  3. 'Beating the scourge of bovine viral diarrhoea virus', Farmers Weekly, December 8, 2006
  4. 'Environmental Mastitis: Causes and Prevalence', DEFRA, 2001.
  5. 'Churned out', John Webster, The Guardian, September 7, 2005
  6. 'Milked Dry', Martin Hickman, The Independent, November 7, 2005

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