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Religion a Prominent Cloned-Food Issue

The world's religions are just now wrestling with how to respond to recent changes in animal agriculture, said Harold Coward, director of the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria, B.C.

"New questions have required the development of new theologies," he said.

Hindus, he said, see animals as human souls in animal form and view eating meat as "quasi-cannibalism," so they need not ponder whether to eat clones. Nonetheless, he said, while Hindu leaders have said that genetically modified plants cannot be used in religious ceremonies, they have given their blessing to the consumption of those plants and to animal cloning generally.

Buddhists have addressed animal biotechnology mostly in terms of the motivation of the scientists doing the work, Coward said, and they accept the practice if the motivation is to reduce suffering.

Among Jewish scholars, "animal biotechnology is now a hot topic," Coward said, with cloning mostly deemed acceptable but the creation of gene-altered animals seen as a possible violation of Talmudic prohibitions against cross-species "grafting."

Muslim scholars were concerned at first that cloning was an usurpation of Allah's unique right to engage in creation. But discussions have since led to an acceptance of cloning and other animal alterations, on the rationale that the human talents undergirding the work are the gifts of Allah, Coward said.

Among Christian leaders, he said, cloning is largely seen "as an act of hubris, a great sin." But change is afoot, and even the Church of Scotland has approved small experiments for which economic gain was not the prime motivation.

The motivations of corporate cloners are mixed, panelists acknowledged, but there is at least some good there, several said.

"We think of this as advancing the healthiest animals," said Glenn of BIO. "And healthy animals make healthy food."

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