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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Thursday is the last day for you to tell the Food and Drug Administration what you think about allowing cloned animals into the nation’s food supply. But believe it or not, clones already walk — er, “trot”— among us. In Texas, elite breeders are cloning rodeo horses that can’t reproduce on their own, and there’s a lot at stake financially. Geoff Brumfiel reports.
GEOFF BRUMFIEL: When rodeo star Charmayne James retired her prize-winning horse Scamper a few years back, she would have liked to put him out to stud. There was just one problem.
CHARMAYNE JAMES: He was castrated, and most horses are. Stallions are very dominating, very protective — so most people just castrate’ em.
Scamper was “clipped” long before he became a star, and that meant a big financial loss for James. The nine-time world champion could have earned her ranch hundreds of thousands of dollars in stud fees.
So she went to ViaGen, an Austin-based firm that clones horses, pigs and cattle. And last August, a surrogate gave birth to the genetically identical “Clayton.”
CHARMAYNE JAMES: He’s real gentle, loves the attention, very spoiled…
Clayton cost about $150,000 — that’s a lot for a horse, but James says he’s worth it.
CHARMAYNE JAMES: He’s so much alike. He has that confident air about him, he already thinks he’s a little bit better than everyone. And that’s how Scamper is.
Some cattle are also being cloned for show purposes. But an FDA ruling later this year on whether cloned animals are safe for human consumption could help livestock breeders still more. Right now, it takes years to prove an animal’s breeding value. By that time, a top bull can be past his prime.
ViaGen CEO Mark Walton:
MARK WALTON: By the time you’ve got that proven bull, you may not have the volume of semen that you would like to have. And so a cloned copy of that animal could certainly be used as a semen source.
It will be the grandchildren of these elite clones that make their way to your dinner plate. As for Clayton, he’s going to have to earn back his big price tag the hard way: mating with 50 mares a year at $5,000 apiece.
CHARMAYNE JAMES: You do the math on it — 50 mares times $5,000, and they’re going to breed from age four until probably age 20.
Actually, I did do the math — and that makes Clayton worth about $4 million.
In Washington, I’m Geoff Brumfiel for Marketplace.
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