Cows are gender predetermined by science

Gina Miller (
Wed, 30 Jun 1999 20:57:00 -0700

Birth of a revolution As scientists find a way to choose the sex of unborn calves, campaigners fear human babies could be next

They are the first cows in Europe to have their gender predetermined by scientists who have perfected a way of separating male and female chromosomes in cattle sperm.
It will allow Britain's 30,000 dairy farmers to choose to produce only female calves, rather than having to waste money rearing unwanted males or having them slaughtered at only a few days old. Experts have admitted the same technique could be applied to human babies, raising the prospect of parents choosing the sex of a child before conception.
Yesterday, concerns were being voiced over its ethical implications, and there were calls for a ban on its use to determine the sex of human embryos. At present around 600,000 unwanted dairy bulls are born each year in the UK, and following the end of the veal export trade the vast majority are slaughtered within days.

The three pioneering calves, named Charity, Clover and Chloe, were born on a farm in Cheshire last month after having their gender pre- selected using the advanced artificial insemination technology. Every sperm carries either a male-producing Y chromosome or a female-producing X chromosome, the latter carrying a slightly larger amount of DNA.
Computerised sensors pass a beam of light through each sperm, identifying the 'males' and 'females' and separating them using a tiny positive or negative magnetic charge.
The method is 90 per cent reliable, which for farmers is a huge improvement on the 50/50 gender split in natural births. Scientists hope the technique will be commercially available within two years, following trials carried out by Cogent, an English cattle-breeding firm working with its American sister company XY Inc. Martin Hall, a spokesman for Cogent, said: 'This is an extraordinary development in the history of cattle breeding. It is something that dairy farmers have wanted for years.' Dairy farmer Paul Moore said since female calves generally weigh less the technique would make first-time pregnancies easier for cows. 'Sorted semen will reduce the number of unwanted bull calves as well as the number of difficult births,' he said. Each year the government spends millions of pounds subsidising the slaughter and incineration of male calves, but widespread use of the processed sperm would mean the doomed calves would not be born at all. The National Farmers' Union has welcomed the technique, pointing to the benefits to animal welfare as well as farmers. Two years ago the Farm Animal Welfare Council backed the use of such methods to reduce the number of male calves going to the slaughterhouse. But their potential use in human births has sparked a fierce backlash from pro-life campaigners.
Dr Mervin Jacobson, president of Colarado-based XY Inc., admitted:
'Scientifically it's correct that humans are also mammals and therefore our
system would work on humans. But our own company is only licensed for non-human mammals.' At present UK law forbids choosing the sex of an embryo unless there are strong medical rather than social reasons. Some couples have already exploited a legal loophole by sending sperm to America to be processed.
Jack Scarisbrick, chairman of the charity Life, said yesterday: 'I am very nervous of further manipulation of nature.
'In the past, advances have been tested on animals and later used in humans,
such as with in-vitro fertilisation. This latest manipulation of animal births breaks down one more barrier.
'I fear it could lead to a form of consumerism, treating children as objects
produced to order, instead of as gifts we should welcome with love and awe.' Mr Scarisbrick said it was already common in some countries to 'choose' the sex of a child by aborting unwanted females.
'If you can argue that in cattle this technique saves the male calves from
slaughter, you could also argue that it would save baby girls from abortion, or claim that the mother should have the freedom to choose. 'It is a terribly dangerous road to start down.'

Gina "Nanogirl" Miller
Nanotechnology Industries
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"Nanotechnology: solutions for the future."