[From today's San Francisco Chronicle.]
Cloned pet ban rejected
Law would have been nation's first
John M. Hubbell, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Wednesday, May 4, 2005
Sacramento -- State lawmakers Tuesday turned away a bill that could have brought a first-in-the-nation ban on pet cloning, moved less by a host of scientific and ethical arguments than by photos of wide-eyed, copy-cat kittens.
The 4-2 vote against the bill with four abstentions by members of Assembly Business and Professions Committee on AB1428 by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, came after a brief discussion that touched on everything from free enterprise to mad science -- all triggered largely by a pioneering Bay Area firm's willingness to replicate pet owners' favorite cat or dog.
That firm, Genetic Savings & Clone, has created replicas of six cats, representatives said Tuesday, and hopes to start work on dogs by December. Pictures of two dark-haired, cloned felines were shown during testimony by Lou Hawthorne, the firm's chief executive, prompting committee Chairwoman Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, to inquire of him: "So you even do tabbies?"
"We do everything except calicoes," Hawthorne said, citing their genetic complexity.
It was not the type of inquiry hoped for by Levine, who framed pet cloning as a needless scientific incursion in a world where millions of needy animals are euthanized each year.
With the practice lacking federal or state regulation, he said, cloning could not only lead to deformities in the laboratory, but to unintended consequences in society.
"What happens when people decide they want to cross their boa constrictor with their rattlesnake to get a really big poisonous snake?" he asked.
"Life is more than a commodity," Levine said, "and this is where we draw the line. Just because we can doesn't mean we should."
Crystal Miller-Spiegel, policy analyst with the American Anti-Vivisection Society, said pet owners should realize that "animals can't be replaced like a printer." She called Levine's legislation "not anti-science, not an animal- rights bill, and not based on emotion. It's simply common sense."
Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, queried Hawthorne on claims on a recent Genetic Savings & Clone mailer touting it can clone an owner's "perfect" pet. "I'm wondering whether consumers are being pulled into this," Koretz said.
But Hawthorne said he was "perfectly comfortable" with the advertisement. "Contractually, we guarantee only physical resemblance," he said.
Hawthorne, who said his firm charged about $23,000 per cat, also touted the promise of animal cloning one day addressing the repopulation of endangered species. Christine Dillon, lobbyist for the California Veterinary Medical Association, said generations of selective breeding meant that, in all practicality, "vets have been working on genetically modified animals for years."
Democratic Assemblyman Joe Nation, whose district includes Sausalito, where Hawthorne's firm is based, noted that a California ban on pet cloning would fail to prevent the practice in neighboring states. Jokingly, he pondered the scenario of a familiar state inspector intercepting cars inbound from Nevada to ask, "Do you have any fresh fruits, vegetables or cloned kittens with you?"
Levine agreed cloning issues should be decided at the federal level, but likened continued inaction in California to "trying to close the barn door after the horses are already out."
But the fears seemed unwarranted to Ken Press of Sacramento, who has stored the DNA of his recently deceased cat, a 12-year-old Siamese mix named Kitamus he called "an exceptional pet," with Genetic Savings & Clone.
"I've considered his genetic lineage worthy of continuing," Press told the committee, adding that neutering the pet proved a mistake. "Sometimes you make a decision and later regret it."
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]