The Curious Case of the Cloned Cat
Faux futuristic pet company Allerca announced this month it would stop taking orders for its allegedly new breed of hypoallergenic cats, and will instead focus on veterinary diagnostics. Allerca (also called Lifestyle Pets or Allerca Lifestyle Pets) is one of the more shady operations in the pet genetics industry, a field cluttered with phony claims, unfulfilled promises, and bankrupt businesses.
Founded by longtime flim-flam man Simon Brodie, Allerca originally promised to use genetic engineering to create non-allergenic cats, but later stated its pets were created by natural breeding. National network news reports glowed about the benefits of the company’s cats for allergy sufferers, and Time magazine hailed the company for one of the “best inventions of 2006.” DNA analysis later revealed the company cats were Savannahs, a breed long known to have less allergenic potential. Allerca offered the cats for anywhere from $4,000 to $40,000, and planned to franchise cat sales territories for $45,000.
In fact, Brodie’s scheme is just the most recent in a series of business scams he has perpetrated. Over the past decade, Brodie’s scams have included a British hot air balloon franchiser (for which he served a prison sentence, after running out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts), creating the world’s most powerful computer processor, creating a national Wi-Fi network, and several genetic technology companies. In just about every case, he has left behind a trail of unpaid bills, uncompensated employees, angry landlords and others cheated by his fraudulent operations.
Still, while Allerca is probably the most outrageous fraud, the animal cloning and gene engineering arena is fraught with scientific fraud and companies making false promises and promoting dubious uses for animal clones. The biotech pet business Genetic Savings and Clone was hailed for the first commercial sale of a cloned cat. But the company failed to sell enough $50,000 pet clones to survive, despite promises that its clones came with “guaranteed health and resemblance.” Such “guarantees’ are nonsense given the inherent uncertainties and common abnormalities found in animal clones. Even dropping its cloned cat price to a mere $32,000 wasn’t enough to save Genetic Savings and Clone from bankruptcy.
Other cloning companies, including Viagen and Cyagra (a subsidiary of the Massachusetts cloning company Advanced Cell Technology), were created to sell animal clones as livestock. Biotech proponents argue that the expense of cloning means the clones will be used only for breeding and not for food, but cloning companies have eagerly marketed cloned cows for dairy production, and the FDA, which has allowed the use of clones in food production (despite virtually no studies on the safety of food from clones), has acknowledged that nothing prohibits companies from slaughtering clones for food once their breeding capacity ends. The agency also says that even young, sickly clones could end up in the food supply if they die before becoming breeding stock. FDA has also refused to require labeling on cloned foods, despite advice from scientists that labeling is essential to trace these risky new foods.