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Consumers React to Sales of Meat from Cloned Cows

November 15, 1999

In Tokyo and elsewhere on September 9, 1999, designated butchers and barbecue restaurants began trial sales of beef from cows cloned by embryo-transfer. For now the reaction of customers has been broadly positive, and the beef sold out fast. However, some continued to voice deep concerns over safety. Will we ever see the day when eating cloned beef is considered normal?

Two Kinds of Cloned Beef
When the beef from 144 cloned cows born at Japan's public and private research institutes was put on the market without informing the public in April 1999, it caused a great deal of commotion, much of which revolved around the issue of labeling.

Although people speak of cloned cows as if they were all of one type, there are in fact two varieties. One is a cow cloned by nuclear transfer, where the nucleus of a cell from the body of an adult cow is placed in an unfertilized egg whose nucleus has been removed. That egg is then implanted in the womb of a surrogate mother cow. With this method, the genetic makeup of the resultant calf is identical to that of the "original." Age is all that separates them. The second type is produced through, embryo cloning. Once a fertilized egg has divided each embryonic cell is taken and then implanted in an unfertilized egg. Since this method involves a male and female parent, biologically it is no different from producing identical twins or triplets.

Since the birth of Dolly, the world's first sheep cloned by nuclear transfer, in Britain in 1996, cloning research has been advancing rapidly all over the world. Japan is at the forefront in the field of cloning cattle, and in July 1998 the world's first cow cloned by nuclear transfer was born. As of March 1999 35 cows had been born using the nuclear-transfer method, and 461 had been born through embryo cloning.

Pros and Cons
As research progresses, so problems begin to appear. For example, recently Dolly's chromosomes were found to contain an "old age indicator," and it was announced that she may effectively have been "old" ever since she was born. On the other hand, some experts insist that "meat from cloned livestock is safer to eat than genetically modified plants or food that may have been exposed to pollution."

A salaried worker in his thirties who ate cloned beef in Japan said, "It was softer than I expected, and hardly any different from normal Japanese beef." A man in his forties declared, "I'm not bothered whether it's cloned." There were many such positive responses, but some disagreed: "When I hear the word clone, I feel like there may be problems with safety," worried an office worker in her twenties. "It tasted good. But I don't understand cloning very well, and some people are against it, so I'll stick to normal beef for my family," said a housewife in her fifties.

In order to sell "hi-tech food" made using biotechnology, such as cloned beef and genetically modified vegetables, people's resistance to such foods must be reduced. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries has suggested that a mere change in appellation from cloned beef to identical twin beef might help. Since consumers are demanding to know more and more about food safety, however, further steps will need to be taken to address their concerns, such as through further labeling requirements.

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.