USDA: no pet cloning regulation

Agency rejects anti-vivisectionist petition to have firms' research covered by Animal Welfare Act

By | July 19, 2005

There's one less thing for the embryonic pet cloning industry to deal with as it seeks profitability:  it will not be regulated by the federal Animal Welfare Act, according to a recent US Department of Agriculture ruling.

In February, the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS) had asked the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to force cloning firms to register as research facilities under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), and to "issue an interpretive rule to alert companies creating or attempting to create cloned or genetically engineered pets that they must register as a research facility" under the Act. In a July 8 letter, the USDA rejected the demand but said that Genetic Savings & Clone (GSC), which announced in December 2004 that it made the world's first sale of a cloned cat, would require an exhibitor license when displaying their clones at animal shows, as they did at the Cat Fanciers' Association/Iams New York show in September last year.

"GSC is providing a production service, using in vitro technology combined with standard veterinary medical practice," the USDA's deputy administrator for animal care, Chester Gipson, wrote in the letter. "Furthermore, we have determined that GSC is not a dog or cat dealer under the AWA, because retail sales of dogs and cats are specifically exempt from the AWA."

The AAVS was unhappy with the decision and said it would try to arrange a follow-up meeting with the USDA in the next month. "While we applaud USDA's decision to require one pet cloning company that clones pet cats and exhibits them at trade shows to apply for an animal exhibitor license, we were very disappointed that they did not concur with the primary reason AAVS filed its petition: which is to encourage USDA to regulate the pet cloning companies as research facilities under the federal Animal Welfare Act," the AAVS said in a statement.

"The public deserves to know what's happening to the animals who are used and born. These companies claim they perform 'cutting-edge' research, but are operating outside the legal framework for scientific research, which makes their claims suspect," Crystal Miller-Spiegel, AAVS senior policy analyst, said in a statement.

Reacting to the USDA decision, Genetic Savings & Clone CEO Lou Hawthorne noted that his company had "directly solicited the USDA/APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service]–in parallel with the AAVS petition–to extend AWA oversight to GSC, because we prefer unified federal oversight to a patchwork of state regulations." GSC's internal standards of animal care "exceed that of any regulatory body, and thus we have nothing to fear from regulation," Hawthorne told The Scientist through a spokesperson.

"However, the USDA/APHIS responded to our request in the same way that they responded to the AAVS petition: GSC does not require AWA oversight, because we outsource our animal care and only work with embryos at our facility," Hawthorne said. "If/when we change our production model and maintain animals at our main facility–something we're seriously considering–then we'll again petition the USDA/APHIS to oversee our work under the terms of the AWA."

Hawthorne said the company is completing an application provided by the USDA for an exhibition license for its clones and expects to receive such a license.

In dueling February press conferences held on the same day, GSC and the AAVS focused on the ethical issues involved in cloning. However in its letter this month, USDA said it considered "only the scope and purview of the AWA and not the ethical and moral issues involved in cloning and genetic engineering."

A bill put forward in February by California Assemblymember Lloyd Levine that would have banned cloning in the state, where GSC is based, was voted down in committee in May.

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