In spite of its expensive cost, undeveloped technology, and contentious ethical issues, the cloning of deceased pets has recently become a burgeoning industry in China.
SinoGene, China’s leader in pet cloning, created the country’s first cloned cat in July 2019 for a cost of 250,000 yuan ($37,000). Since then, China has seen a rise in the popularity of commercial pet cloning.
The company recently opened a new branch in Jiangsu Province in eastern China. The facility there takes about 27,000 square metres (6.67 acres), with a total building size of 17,000 square metres (4.2 acres).
The majority of Chinese people could not afford the initial high cost of cloning. But the cost of cloning has since decreased. According to a SinoGene salesperson, the cost to clone a cat now is 118,000 yuan (about $17,500), which is less than half of the cost three years ago.
A pet dog’s cloning costs between 168,000 and 198,000 yuan (about $25,000 to $29,000) at the moment, which is 50% cheaper than the 380,000 yuan (around $56,000) it cost in April 2019.
But even the present cloning costs are comparable to what a typical Chinese worker would need to earn over the course of two to three years.
SinoGene has successfully supplied more than 300 cloned animals in the last three years, including over 100 cats and 200 dogs. Additionally, SinoGene has stored pet cells for more than 1,000 customers for use in future cloning procedures.
China’s pet cloning market is getting very competitive. PanGene, another pet cloning business in addition to Hino Valley, is well renowned for cloning Purebred Tibetan Mastiff dogs. In order to conserve the best breeds, some commercial catteries and kennels have also saved cell lines from cats and dogs and offer cloning services.
The total number of dogs and cats kept as pets in China exceeded 112 million last year, according to the 2021 white paper on the country’s pet industry. In urban areas nationwide, the market for pet cats and dogs grew from 206.5 billion yuan (roughly $30.56 billion) in 2020 to 249 billion yuan (roughly $36.85 billion) in 2021, a 20.6 percent increase.
Because pets offer humans crucial emotional support during trying times, the pet market in China has expanded throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
China’s largest e-commerce platform, Taobao, reported last year that in February, there were 375 percent more live pet broadcasts on Taobao than the previous year, with about 1 million people viewing them daily.
Disappointment among owners
According to reports from cloning businesses and the media, the majority of pet cloners did so in an effort to recreate companionship and lost memories. No matter how advanced the technology, cloned animals cannot be guaranteed to look exactly like their originals. Additionally, the cloned pet has no memories of its “parent” in the past.
China’s first cloned cat, named Garlic, was born in July 2019. Huang Yu, the animal’s owner, acknowledged that after watching a video of the pet, he was a little let down. Even though a third-party organisation proved that the two cats’ DNAs were similar, this cloned “Garlic” and the original “Garlic” appeared very different from one another, and the original cat’s black marks in the shape of garlic cloves were not present on the cat’s jaw.
More crucially, the new Garlic did not react to him like he had anticipated it would when they first met—that is, like an old friend.
Despite the fact that small Nini has significantly darker fur than the original Nini, its owner Zhang Yueyan is much more understanding. Zhang still has faith that little Nini would live out the remaining 19 years of her life with her and be just like the original Nini.
Although there are moral and ethical demands, there are currently no laws that govern pet cloning or pet surrogacy.
The physical body of a human or animal has a deeper aspect, according to Dr. Yang Guiyuan, a longtime researcher in the field of veterinary clinical and pathology headquartered in Japan. Chinese name it “Yuanshen,” or the primal spirit, whereas Westerners refer to it as the “soul.” This viewpoint asserts that the cloned animal has an independent life, notwithstanding how identical its look may be.
“In addition, scientific and technological means may introduce genetic defects. If the cloned animal keep reproducing for a few generations, will it end up producing a genetic monster in the end? It’s hard to say,” remarked Yang.
Cloning technology is still beset by a number of issues that need to be fixed. The poor success rate also necessitates using more animals during the cloning procedure, some of whom may endure cruel treatment.
For instance, at least 40 eggs from 5 cats were utilised to implant into 4 surrogate cats to create China’s first successful cloned cat. Surgery was required for both egg retrieval from the mother cats and embryo implantation into the surrogate cats.
Animal cloning is currently used mostly in the realms of fundamental research, healthcare, or the preservation of endangered species.
Animal cloning pioneers stop using their technology
The UK’s Roslin Institute, which created the world’s first cloned sheep, Dolly, no longer engages in animal cloning, in contrast to China’s thriving pet cloning industry. Dog cloning services were provided in the United States by BioArts, a company in Northern California, in 2008, but the operation was shut down a year later.
The Roslin Institute explained why with the following statement on their website:
“We do not clone animals any more. The technique has a very low success rate. Dolly was the result of many months of research involving a highly skilled team,” Roslin Institute explained on its website. “What are the risks associated with cloning? Cloned embryos are more likely to be lost during pregnancy than normal embryos, which accounts for the low success rate of cloning. Large Offspring Syndrome (LOS) can also affect some cloned animals. Animals with LOS have growth defects and are considerably larger at birth than animals resulting from natural matings.”
Lou Hawthorne, the founder and CEO of Bioarts, claimed that he left the cloning industry because he was appalled by the pain it causes thousands of dogs every year in an exclusive interview with UK media outlet Mirror in April 2014.
“I couldn’t care less if the cloning business world collapses, but I care about suffering.” Lou said to the Mirror.
According to Dr. Yang, the commercialization of pet cloning in China represents a behaviour that transgresses moral and natural principles in order to profit financially. He claimed that these people have no respect for life and believe they can carelessly control it.