Examination of Witness (Questions 1160-1170)
PROFESSOR W R ALLEN
TUESDAY 5 FEBRUARY 2002
1160. That brings us neatly on to the next question. Do you consider that cloning or genetic engineering will be used on horses or other equids? What ethical and welfare considerations would such procedures raise?
(Professor Allen) Certainly I think such techniques will be done on horses. There are groups I know of who are actively trying it in other parts of the world. There is quite a race on between us at the present time. There are a number of reasons to want to clone horses. There are individual wealthy people who want to reproduce their favourite horse and if that produces funds for research then I say, jolly good, we are the first to line up to try and do it. As well as that, I think the things that can be learned from a cloned animal are tremendous, in a horse particularly things like behaviour, which we have been talking about, and performance. We are dealing with an athlete in a horse and the idea of nurture versus nature is very pertinent as to whether you can reproduce that physical athletic excellence and how much of it is genetic and how much is induced by how the animal is raised and treated. Of course clones would answer that so quickly. I am very keen on it in that respect. It also would provide us with very valuable experimental animals to work with. We could have four or five clones that are genetically identical and we can do a whole raft of experiments and get very, very accurate answers without having to use large numbers of animals to do the same thing. Yes, cloning will come in; it should come in; and the sooner we can do it the better. I should point out that we are behind the cattle and sheep people. We have a lot to learn. Obviously the horse is different from other farm animals and we need to get on to do basic work which in the early stages does not involve horses at all. It is simply using eggs from horse ovaries gathered from an abattoir and it is all done in vitro. The point will be reached when we want to transfer the embryo into a mare and we cannot do that.
1161. Are there welfare or ethical considerations?
(Professor Allen) No, I do not think so. If we get a type of Beltsville pig or an abnormal animal as a result of cloningand certainly one has to admit they are getting a high number of abnormalities of foetuses in cattle and sheep clones and they are working on why that is the caseif an abnormal animal is produced we will put it down. I take the view, and I hold to it, that a domestic animal is man's product essentially for man's use. It would not be there unless man had decided to produce it. We either eat it, have entertainment with it ride it, use it for sport, or whatever. It is beholden upon us never to cause suffering unnecessarily to that animal, but I do not hold that it has ethics in its own right at all.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton
1162. One of the points you made was that by having cloned horses it would enable you to do experiments on those to avoid using massive numbers of other normal animals. Therefore, that is a welfare argument in favour of cloning. Is that right?
(Professor Allen) Certainly in a cost-benefit analysis, the benefit would be big and the cost would be small.
1163. On the other hand, we have had other evidence to say that because of genetic engineering and cloning there are going to be many, many more animal experiments taking place, by and large, and therefore the number of animals in scientific procedures will increase. Is that a contradiction, a paradox?
(Professor Allen) It is as stated but I do not think I agree with it. Obviously animals will need to be used to develop the technique of cloning to the point of commercial usefulness, and to get over the problems that exist now, and animals will need to be used as recipients for these cloned embryos. If clones can be created that are good, normal animals, then the number of animal experiments will be greatly reduced. So the only use of animals in cloning is as recipients to carry that cloned embryo to term. The clone itself will either be normal or abnormal. If abnormal I would put it down and not think twice about it. But the actual use of animals to create the clone is simply as a recipient, which is going on now with straightforward embryo transfer.
1164. Is there some rational, open, transparent appeal procedure against the decision that you mentioned, which is obviously of great importance?
(Professor Allen) I hope I am not speaking out of turn but Lord Soulsby has very kindly helped to gather together four experts in the field of cloning who happen to be in Cambridge (because it is a hot bed of them) to get their views and to answer the questions put by the Home Office, which are three questions which I have already tried to produce answers for. The Home Office Inspector has agreed to meet and discuss the situation with those four experts, who are very learned people. Then that will go back to London and be pondered on by the Home Office people before a result comes, and from experience, that is going to take at least six months.
1165. Essentially, an ethical decision as to whether to clone or not in horses is being made by a bureaucracy without any political input and without any accountability and without any ability for the public to have their say in this or for there to be public opinion or right of appeal by yourselves should they say definitely no?
(Professor Allen) Yes, the Home Office are taking the role of the public minder, if you like, of the welfare of the animals they see and they should have that role, but I would like more expertise to be in their midst to make those sorts of decisions. It is clear that the decision at the present time is political not scientific because cloning is approved in cattle and sheep and rats and mice but not in horses because it is a companion animal, an emotive species, and some people find the idea distressing.
1166. Can I ask the last two questions together. What information on animal procedures do you think should be made available to the public? Have units such as yours been affected by animal extremists?
(Professor Allen) I would much prefer to be absolutely open and transparent if - underline ifwe could have fair reporting from the media and the press, but clearly we do not. Many attempts have been made, particularly by the Institute of Animal Physiology in Cambridge some years ago when it opened its doors and was promptly written up as "Frankenstein's Farm". With the modern tabloid press, sadly, fair reporting is not possible. I would prefer it if the public knew what we were doing and I would be happy for any member of the public to come to our unit and discuss our experiments. Yes, I have been targeted by extremists in the past, although not in recent years fortunately. I had paint splashed on my car three times. They used to ring in the middle of the night and my young children would hear blood curdling screams on the phone (though they laughed, in actual fact; the extremists failed in that respect). That was back in our old research station days before we moved to Newmarket. Since then I have been pilloried by the press when I foolishly let in a BBC Radio 4 programme to discuss animals and experiments and thought I should play my role and wanted to take part. But they misrepresented and misquoted me terribly and then the Sunday People magazine wrote a two-page article with my photograph, and although I was not called Frankenstein, I was dubbed the "cruellest man in Britain". Silly things like that. It does not bother me particularly because it is gutter press and gutter people read it, but it does not do the whole business of scientific research much good. We have had a bad press and have been given a bad reputation and it is absolutely unjustified, particularly for people like ourselves who work with large animals, especially, I might say, people who work with horses. We are vets. I like animals. I would not have become a vet if I did not like animals.
1167. One can understand in circumstances where there was intimidation and harassment that scientists put their heads beneath the parapet, but in a way the scientific community, it could be argued, has not really put its best foot forward in these things. It has not been sufficiently proactive enough to inform public opinion as to the scientific case.
(Professor Allen) I think that is true. I agree with that statement very much. I can see the justification for it, and I can see the reasoning for it. There is a body that is for scientific research, a very authoritative, upright body here in London
1168. The Research Defence Society?
(Professor Allen) Yes that is right. To put its case into the broader media on television or into the newspapers would almost be impossible because the media would not want it. It is too straightforward and too strait-laced. The media only want terrible things they can write about. That is a sad fact. It does not excuse the fact that we have not taken the high ground we should have been on; it is very similar to the fox-hunting debate.
1169. It is the counter experience you are putting forward. Even though the odds are stacked against you in so many ways, if you put up a white flag and say that is it, the public will never have an opportunity, will never break through to informed discussion of what the scientific community is doing?
(Professor Allen) I agree. I certainly do not raise a white flag. I will personally fight and fight, but a lot of people will not.
1170. Suggesting a white flag I thought was like raising a red rag to a bull! Professor Allen, thank you very much indeed for coming to see us. It has been a refreshing session. Thank you very much.
(Professor Allen) Thank you for listening.