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Sieren's China: Test-tube meat

China is building a huge animal cloning factory. However, like in the West, some Chinese consumers are skeptical about eating cloned meat, says DW's Frank Sieren.

The idea is to breed dogs, cattle and also racehorses on an industrial scale in test-tubes. China has invested 30 million euros into the biggest cloning factory in the world over 14,000 square meters. It's a joint venture between the Chinese bio-tech company BoyaLife Group and the South Korean firm Sooam Biotech, whose CEO Hwang Woo Suk caused a stir in 2004 after publishing a study in which he claimed that he could clone human embryos. The University of Seoul later proved that his results had been falsified. Since then, Hwang has concentrated on cloning expensive dog breeds.

Increasing demand for meat

The new cloning center is being built in a business and development park that is financed by the local authorities. The Institute of Molecular Medicine at the renowned Peking University and the Tianjin Joint International Academy of Biotechnology and Medicine are also partners. The government is backing the project because it believes that ethical questions will soon recede in view of the shortage of meat. Average beef consumption now stands at five kilos a head in China, compared to 340 grams in 1984.


DW's Frank Sieren

The managers of the new center are certain that cloned meat will meet with success. Xu Xiaochun, the board chairman of BoyaLife Group, says it is the tastiest meat he has ever eaten. What else can he say, however? He wants to sell this meat to the Chinese population. Some 100,000 cloned cattle are planned in the first year and this figure will rise to a million the second year.

The advantages of GM steaks and cloned cattle should not be dismissed. While China can still meet the demand for its population of 1.3 billion when it comes to pork, it is currently dependent on expensive imports from the West for beef. The milk supply from domestic cows is also insufficient. Since 2010, Chinese consumers have drunk 30 liters of milk a head annually - twice as much as five years before. Demand is predicted to double again in the coming ten years.

Tastier than natural meat

Researchers from the China Agricultural University in Beijing say that the best steak no longer comes from Argentina but from China. Cloning and genetic modification experiments have increased the muscle fat of Chinese cows. In September, Niu Niu, a cow that had been cloned and genetically modified, gave birth naturally. It must be said that she had only been giving a gene that can increase the fat content of muscles to make meat taste particularly good.

Nonetheless, there is resistance to cloned meat in China and there is increasing criticism of the new factory in the social media. In Europe, cloned meat producers did not expect their opponents to prevail but the EU is planning a blanket ban on the cloning of all farm animals. China is not likely to do this - considering the amount of people who want to eat meat, it cannot afford this luxury.

DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.

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