China plans to eat more meat. And not just any old meat, but cloned cow meat. A new government-sponsored “cloning park” is set to open early in 2016, and one of its goals is to produce 100,000 cloned cattle embryos a year. That number will eventually increase to 1 million embryos, says Xu Xiaochun, chairman of the Boyalife Group, which is behind the center.
Why clones? Numbers. Xiaochun says that Chinese farmers are “struggling to produce enough beef cattle to meet market demand,” so the obvious alternative, it seems, is to clone them instead, ensuring a regular and reliable supply. Reliable, that is, until this mono-crop meets a pest or disease that doesn’t like it, and sweeps through the entirety of Chinese cloned cattle like a potato blight through Ireland. Cloned animals are attractive to farmers because they can be chosen based on various features: meat yield, resistance to known disease, and so on.
Demand for meat in China has grown fourfold in the last four decades. A report published in October by PricewaterhouseCoopers says that the average calorie intake of a person in China has risen from 1,863 calories to 3,074 calories, with the greatest part of that coming from animal calories “which have increased by well over 400% per person, per day since 1971, and more than doubled since 1991.”
The cloning factory, run by Boyalife subsidiary Sinica, will go some way to meeting demand. The center will also clone sniffer dogs, pet dogs, and racehorses. The parent company (Boyalife) is also involved in stem cell and regenerative medicine.
This increase in meat demand comes at the same time as U.K. researchers recommend a meat tax to combat the rising demand for meat, and the environmental and health issues that increased meat productions and consumption bring. Given that the Chinese government is the main investor in this new cloning center, though, it seems unlikely that China is interested in reducing meat consumption anytime soon.