Poultry industry not ready for cloning

January 18, 2002
By Joseph Cacchioli, Daily Times Staff Writer

SALISBURY - Lower Shore poultry companies said Thursday that new research to mass-produce cloned chickens is still too far into the future to affect the industry, though chicken growers and animal rights activists question the technology.

"The test of time will show if this technology will have a place in the poultry industry," said Tita Cherrier, spokeswoman for Salisbury-based Perdue Farms Inc. "We will continue to raise our birds they way we always have since the 1920s through natural selective breeding."

But the biotech industry sees little difference between selective breeding and engineering chickens, and companies across the country are investigating ways to produce meatier and faster-growing birds by modifying their genetics through the use of cloning and embryonic stem cells.

"A lot of things get proposed at the theoretical level," said Richard Lobb, a spokesman for the Washington-based National Chicken Council. "It's anyone's guess whether it will catch on in the industry."

The goal is to create identical copies of eggs with desirable traits in an assembly-line method. The hatched chickens would be identical - growing and eating at the same exact rate.

Biotech companies want to breed bigger chickens faster by extracting embryonic stem cells from the fastest growing and biggest chickens and injecting them into fertilized eggs of skinnier egg-laying chickens.

Other companies are employing nuclear transfer - the best known cloning technique.

"Nothing will change in the near future," said Ed Nicholson, a spokesman for Tyson Foods Inc. - the nation's largest poultry company. "It's still very early in the game."

Though the poultry industry is taking a wait-and-see approach to the research, opponents fear too much is still unknown about biotechnology.

Moral and health issues are concerns of Lower Shore chicken growers, said Carole Morison, a Perdue grower and the executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance.

"It really doesn't affect us. It's not up to us whether we raise clones or natural chickens. We take what they give us," she said. "But what is it that people will be eating? There are some things that are not to be created by man."

Animal rights activists argue that the science just provides more harm for chickens.

"They are proliferating lives that endure nothing but misery," said Karen Davis, chicken rights activist and founder of United Poultry Concerns. "It's the new horror for animals in the 21st Century."

Davis also argued against the use of federal funds to support the research, saying that the technology could spawn new diseases, and chickens will suffer more than ever.

"These things have ramifications over the long run," she said.

Reach Joseph Cacchioli at 410-749-7171, Ext. 241, or jcacchioli@smgpo.gannett.com.

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