Mackenzie Wolfgram: The Key to the First Wave of Welfare Benefits from Animal Cloning is the Cloning of Studs

I am pleased to host another student guest post, this time by Mackenzie Wolfgram. This is the 26th student guest post this semester. You can see all the student guest posts from my “Monetary and Financial Theory” class at this link. This is Mackenzie’s 3d guest post. His first two were “Why the $15 Minimum Wage is Bad for the Poor” and “Capital Lease Accounting is Honest Accounting. Operating Lease Accounting is Not.”

Recently, Tianjin China announced plans to build the first large scale animal cloning facility, which is set to be up and running sometime in 2016. There has been sufficient controversy surrounding the subject, with some touting this as the 21st century advancement that will allow us to help feed the masses, while others claim that this is an example of people playing god, is unethical, and will have unintended consequences. One such consequence is that the reduced variety in the gene pool of farm animals could allow for less resilience to disease and lead to plague like illness ravaging our food, this could potentially more than offset any advantage of the cloning program. Regardless of opposition, the plans are going to proceed. While I don’t think that this operation will actually be able to “feed the masses” immediately, animal cloning has been a long time coming and will have benefits akin to those we see from genetically modified plants, which will included cheaper, higher quality meat.

In the short term, there is no feasible way that this cloning facility will be vastly superior at rapid beef production than any other factory farm.  People hear cloning and they get visions of fully grown cows being 3d printed and slaughtered in a matter of minutes, orc style. Yet, these cows will still have to go through a normal cow life cycle, from infants to adulthood. The main difference between using a cloning facility and not is cost effectiveness. Currently, you have bulls with good genes selling on the market for upwards of one million dollars, just for the breeding prospects. Since they rear larger cows with better meat, less fat, etc. farmers are willing to pay large sums of money for them. Even though there is no guarantee that the offspring of these bulls will be genetically superior, farmers are still clamoring to pay around $3,500 per ejaculation of the semen of choice bulls.  While this may seem to be a ridiculous price, it is a means of producing better cows and more meat, which in the end is a net gain for farmers.

This cloning facility does not mean that we will have unlimited cows immediately, thus the ability to feed the masses has been overstated; however we will see the cost of producing a “perfect cow” sharply fall, and the ability to do so rapidly increase. For instance, right now there are few bulls with choice characteristics as aforementioned. These few bulls have extraordinary qualities that merit the high prices paid for their sperm. At the new Chinese factory, after a few generations of gene alterations, perfect cows could be produced without the need for expensive bull semen. We will see genetic modifications allowing for faster cow growth, more milk production, better fat/meat ratios and other desirable qualities happen within only a few generations. Scientists could pick and choose these qualities and quickly mass produce them instead of waiting for genetic chance to suddenly make the lucky farmer who owns a “perfect bull” an overnight millionaire. 

Critics who fear that we will become more susceptible to illness on a large scale have a very valid point, and we will have to find a way to circumvent this problem. As of now, there is no end all solution for the issue of decreased lack of diversity, however I imagine that the reward is worth the risk in this scenario. I think that overall, animal cloning and genetic modification will provide a net benefit to societies that partake in it. While we may not feed the masses overnight, “perfect cows” on a large scale could indeed drive up the quality and availability of beef while simultaneously cutting the price. Eventually, if we were able to produce cows that grew to be twice as big in half the time, we could see massive gains in our ability to provide meat to a growing populous. So while this operation is not without critics, or risk, it is a worthwhile advancement that is soon going to be necessary to support our populations increasing size and our growing appetite for meat.