Remember the last time you cut into that perfect, juicy, tender steak? What if you could have that experience every time you ordered a steak? For most folks, steaks are a treat that they indulge in a few times a year, and yet it's rare that they get that perfect cut of meat.
Ranchers and agriculture companies have seen demand for beef slide since the 1970s. Consumption has dropped 27% in the last three decades, while chicken consumption has gone up. The biggest complaint that people have about beef is that they can never be sure of the quality of the meat, according to surveys done by Texas A&M University and Colorado State University.
Addressing that concern is one of the biggest reasons companies like J.R. Simplot Co. are experimenting with cloning livestock. The first two animals that Scott Simplot, chairman of the Boise (Idaho) company, chose to clone were ones that yielded prime-grade meat at the slaughterhouse, the highest grade granted by the Dept. of Agriculture. Less than 2% of animals now qualify for the grade. But Simplot imagines a day when such top-quality cuts are common, and even better steaks are possible. "There is nothing like a great, memorable steak," says Simplot, "and we decided that we have to figure out a way to re-create that."
Numbers Add Up
That's not the only reason for cloning. The majority of Simplot's cattle are sold alive to meatpackers. The company is paid not on the grade of their meat, but on the weight of each animal. So for this operation, Simplot benefits from cows that can fatten up quickly and efficiently. One that caught ranch hands' attention was gaining 8 pounds per day while eating the same feed that other cows were eating to put on 3.5 pounds. Today, the company has seven clones of that steer.
Certain cows are also better for high-quality milk and cheese. As Simplot's workers checked various cows, they found one Holstein that produced milk with higher-than-normal protein and fat content, which is important for making butter and cheese. In addition, the cow could give 38,000 pounds of milk per year, compared with the 19,000 pounds from the average cow.
Protesters may object to the idea of cloning. But Simplot says the case for using the technology is relatively straightforward. It can result in more and better food for everyone, from milk and cheese to a great steak. (For another reason, see BusinessWeek.com, 3/7/07, "The Man Behind the Cloning Movement.")