Last week when FDA scientists said the agency would end the five-year ban on milk and meat from cloned animals and their offspring, I thought I’d check in on Bob Schauf of Indianhead Holsteins, in Barron, Wisconsin. Two years ago when I wrote about Schauf the clones of his prizewinning cow Blackrose, were producing milk that he and his partners could either drink themselves or pour down the drain. Anytime cloning made the news Schauf got calls from reporters, and he always sounded a little weary but confident the ban would be lifted. This time he was excited. “It’s like AI [artificial insemination] way back in the 40s. “You know, ‘Gee whiz there’s something weird about these AI calves and we can’t be doing this.’ Common sense usually takes over.”
Five-year-old Blackrose II–a clone–has given birth to three natural calves. Three or four more were born through surrogacy, and Revenge, the gargantuan, feisty red bull she birthed three years ago, is now producing semen for a cautious but steady market. Schauf thinks that caution will soon be flung to the wind. Doing a little mental math he reckoned the 30,000 pounds of milk a cow like Blackrose II produces every year will net him more than $4,000 in that time. Milk isn’t really where the breeder’s bread is buttered though. The real cheddar comes from dairy farmers who want some of Blackrose’s proven milk-producing DNA in their barns.
Meantime, the debate shifts to whether such milk should be labeled or not, or whether clone-free milk can be. Blackrose II is dry right now because she’s due to give birth again in March, but by then Schauf hopes the FDA will have finalized approval so he can start mixing her milk in with the rest of his herd’s and sending it off to the cheese factory. It’s more likely the FDA will take another year to bang the gavel