China is bringing new meaning to the idea that a McDonald’s burger should taste the same wherever you buy it.
“We are going [down] a path that no one has ever traveled. We are building something that has not existed in the past.” That’s what Xu Xiaochun told the Guardian in an interview earlier this week. Xu is the chief officer of Chinese company BoyaLife, which unveiled plans for what’s set to be the largest animal cloning factory in the world.
The specs: The factory will be built in a government-sponsored business area in the city of Tianjin, which is about 100 miles away from Beijing. And the 14,000-square-meter facility won’t come cheap: Construction is estimated at 200 million yuan—more than $13 million. It’s expected to be up and running sometime within the first half of 2016.
Animal cloning is nothing if not a hot topic around the world these days. The U.S.’s official position is that cloned meat is A-okay, as long as it’s not cloned sheep meat (which hasn’t been proven to be safe). The argument: Cloned livestock isn’t actually for eating—it’s for breeding. According to the FDA primer on cloning:
Clones allow farmers to upgrade the overall quality of their herds by providing more copies of the best animals in the herd. These animals are then used for conventional breeding, and the sexually reproduced offspring become the food producing animals. These animals are not clones—they’re just like other sexually reproduced animals. Just as farmers wouldn’t use their best conventionally bred breeding animals as sources of food, they are equally unlikely to do so for clones.
So, disease resistance, sustainability to climate, body type (aka MEATINESS). Good stuff. The future of meat might just be here.
The EU, on the other hand, has given livestock cloning the no-go—last September, they voted to ban the cloning of farm animals. Their reasons against the practice are equally valid, and have a lot to do with animal welfare: Only a small percentage of cloned embryos survive until birth, and even after birth, many of the animals die.
Meanwhile, back in China, the government is on board with BoyaLife’s plans. The company initially hopes to produce 100,000 “top quality” cow embryos, with the eventual goal of being responsible for five percent of the country’s slaughtered cattle per year. It’s a high aim, but valid nonetheless, especially now that meat consumption in China is at an all-time high and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Beyond livestock cloning, BoyaLife has other aims for its factory. They’ll also focus on cloning champion racehorses, as well as and drug-and-disaster victim-sniffing dogs. And, very nobly, animals on the brink of extinction. Insert Jurassic Park joke here.
BoyaLife is teaming up in the venture with South Korean company Sooam Biotech, known for their business of cloning beloved deceased pets (and also for their lead scientist Hwang Woo-suk, once lauded as the “king of cloning” until he was ousted from his position at Seoul National University for gross ethical lapses and research fraud). The execs at BoyaLife seem to have forgiven and forgotten this transgression — they’re moving forward with the factory, which is, according to Xu, almost complete.
“This is going to change our world and our lives,” he told the Guardian. “It is going to make our life better. So, we are very, very excited about it.”