GENTECH archive 8.96-97


French Alarmed by Cloning

    By Tim Hepher     PARIS, Feb 25 (Reuter) - France's farm minister,
warning that genetic science might produce six-legged chickens, promised
stiff new controls if a British breakthrough in sheep cloning led to
"monstrous" experiments with nature. 

    Philippe Vasseur, echoing a horror movie theme in some newspapers,
speculated on radio that today's controlled studies might one day spawn the
science needed to make farmyard freaks. 

    "Even if countries like France, Italy, Spain, Germany and others have
rigorous rules about using science, what you can and cannot do, tomorrow
someone could well invent sheep with eight feet or chickens with six legs,"
Vasseur said. 

    "These would be monstrosities of nature and this presents us with
important problems," he told France Inter radio. 

    Vasseur, using a French farm show this week to win back consumer
confidence after controversies surrounding mad cow disease and genetically
altered grain, said France would ban imports of anything it thought against
the public interest. 

    "Every country, thank God, has the right to use barriers on sanitary
grounds," he said, recalling that France was the first country to ban British
beef when the risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) infecting humans
first emerged last March. 

    Vasseur this month banned sowings of transgenic maize, described as a
health threat by ecologists, although he is allowing imports from the United
States on labelling conditions. 

    Other politicians and farm activists spelled out the danger of letting
science run wild in the farmyard as newspapers gave extra space to Sunday's
surprise announcement in Britain of the first successful cloning of an adult

    "The experiment of fear," daily Le Figaro declared in its front-page
headline above a photograph of the cloned beast. 

    "After this breakthrough, the fantasy of duplicating a human being has
found a foundation in science," the newspaper said. 

    Centrist politician Christine Boutin, allied with Prime Minister Alain
Juppe's centre-right government, put down a motion in parliament on Tuesday
calling for experiments with "cloning and chimeras" to be banned outright in

    It was not clear how far-reaching such a ban would be. 

    A chimera is a hybrid biological organism made up of genetically
different tissues. To classical mythologists, a chimaera is a triple-bodied
monster -- she-goat, lion and snake. 

    The scientists who carried out the Edinburgh research with biotechnology
company PPL Therapeutics say assembly lines of clones, particularly of
people, are still mere fiction. 

    But Vasseur said the most alarming risk was that the new techniques, to
be published in a scientific journal this week, could spread across the world
and be used to seek profits. 

    "The difficulty is in the world today genetic manipulation can be used by
teams and in countries which are not necessarily those we consider the most
advanced economically," he said. 

    Breeders showing off pens of sheep at cattle inside the farm show said
they saw no rapid commercial use in animal cloning but fretted over continued
public acceptance of long-standing genetic techniques like embryo transfers. 

    "This is a multi-million dollar business. We are in the hands of
politicians and public perception," said one breeder. 

    Meanwhile outside the farm show, workers from the left-leaning Farmers'
Confederation union launched balloons to protest against the marketing of
genetically altered crops. 

08:47 02-25-97