Flat White

China: robots cloning pigs – what could go wrong?

11 June 2022

6:19 PM

11 June 2022

6:19 PM

China is teaching robots to clone pigs, according to the South China Morning Post.

Seven cloned pigs are reported to have been born at the College of Artificial Intelligence at Nankai University in Tianjin as part of China’s bid to remove its reliance on imported breeding stock.

China has been cloning animals for food on an industrial scale for nearly a decade, but this is the first time that they have succeeded in removing human beings from the process – a step that has ‘improved success’ according to reports.

Robots cloning animals for food doesn’t sound like it fits in particularly well with United Nations agricultural ethics goals or the ‘let them eat bugs’ philosophy of the World Economic Forum – but China has never played by the same rules enforced on the rest of the world.

Demand for pork products is particularly high, with China listed as both the world’s leading consumer and producer. Cloning pork breeding stock is meant to make the production cheaper – albeit ethically questionable.

After Swine Flu knocked the pork industry around, the government has been looking for a quick fix to cut their dependency on foreign imports of breeding stock. African Swine Flu outbreaks between 2018-19 resulted in roughly 0.78 per cent GDP economic loss, according to Nature. It is feared this could climb as high as 2.07 per cent, hence the panic to produce cloned sows.

Liu Yaowei, a member of the team involved in the production of the automated cloning process, spoke to the press last week. They have been using special algorithms to increase the rate of clone success. 100 domestic farms have been enrolled by the communist regime in the robot-breeding program.

‘Each step of the cloning process was automated, and no human operation was involved. Our AI-powered system can calculate the strain within a cell and direct the robot to use minimal force to complete the cloning process, which reduces the cell damage caused by human hands.’

Pig breeding in China is an expensive business – largely because of the high prevalence of disease. Playing around with the genetics of meat production is hoped to make the animals more resilient, but at what cost?

The BGI Group (formally the Beijing Genomics Institute) cloned the first pig in China in 2010, and by 2014, they were cloning 500 pigs a year.

At the time, the BGI canteen was apparently being used to trial the cloned products from the labs, saying, ‘If it tastes good, you should sequence it. You should know what’s in the genes of that species. A third category is if it looks cute – anything that looks cute: panda, polar bear, penguin, you should really sequence it – it’s like digitalising all the wonderful species.’

BGI was originally set up to sequence the human genome and has been heavily involved in the Covid era. They formed part of the team that first sequenced the Covid genome with one of the company’s founders, Wang Jian, leading a team in Wuhan.

China is a moral swamp when it comes to cloning, genetic manipulation, and other experimental procedures. This has not been limited to farm animals, with at least one Chinese scientist serving a jail sentence for illegally gene-splicing human DNA resulting in the birth of little girls.

BGI has come under criticism for its collaborative work with the People’s Liberation Army. The company created genetic prenatal tests to ‘map the prevalence of viruses in Chinese women, look for indicators of mental illness in them, and single out Tibetan and Uyghur minorities to find links between their genes and their characteristics’. BGI maintains that they did not share prenatal genetics with the PLA. Regardless, the United States Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security flagged two of BGI’s subsidiaries for human rights abuses regarding genetic sequencing in Xinjiang – the Chinese ‘autonomous’ province famous for ethnic prison camps.

BGI released the following statement:

‘BGI Group does not engage in unethical practices and does not provide gene technology for the surveillance of Uighurs. BGI Group does not condone and would never be involved in any human-rights abuses.’

The company has,  however, been involved in many high-profile genetic sequencing events, including frozen mummies and extinct animals that earned it international praise.

Interest in genetic sequencing in China goes beyond its disturbing agricultural industry. The Han regime has been fostering an obsession with genetic purity that bears an eerie similarity to Hitler’s search for blood purity. Genetic sequencing on ancient mummies found inside ethnically contested regions has been used by the CCP to ‘prove’ their inherent right of conquest. When the result goes the wrong way, it creates problems.

The Tarim mummies (or ‘red mummies’) found in the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang have been a particular point of contention as they appear to indicate the presence of Indo-Europeans (Caucasoid) in 1,800 BC. The implication is that the region may have been settled by Ancient North Eurasians which supports local stories about tall, red-haired, blue-eyed individuals. This makes them the original inhabitants of the region.

As Dr Victor H. Mair writes:

‘The new finds [of the Tarim mummies] are also forcing a reexamination of old Chinese books that describe historical or legendary figures of great height, with deep-set blue or green eyes, long noses, full beards, and red or blond hair. Scholars have traditionally scoffed at these accounts, but now it seems that they may be accurate.’

Chinese scientists in Xinjiang have been quick to attempt to bury these discoveries for fear it will fuel ‘ethnic separatism’.

To give an example of how hotly contested genetic history is in China, Chinese historian Ji Xianlin said of the find:

‘However, within China a small group of ethnic separatists have taken advantage of this opportunity to stir up trouble and are acting like buffoons. Some of them have even styled themselves the descendants of these ancient ‘white people’ with the aim of dividing the motherland. But these perverse acts will not succeed.’

Genetic manipulation and the politicisation of DNA has created a flourish of racially-charged ideologies with links to the Chinese military and large pharmaceutical companies.

Questions are naturally being raised regarding the direction genetic ethics is headed, not only for the poor cloned pigs trapped in a lab-based vision of hell, cloned over and over again for food – but also for human beings being discriminated against based on their genes and the general monetisation of the human genome.

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