The International Federation for Equestrian Sports (Fédération Équestre Internationale, or FEI) has announced a reversal of its previous decision to ban cloned horses from competition.
The FEI’s statment, quoted here, includes the following:
“The FEI will not forbid participation of clones or their progenies in FEI competitions. The FEI will continue to monitor further research, especially with regard to equine welfare.”
The key ethical issues that arise with regards to this decision are:
1) animal welfare (referred to in the quotation above),
2) fairness across competitors (which was apparently the key concern when the FEI decided, back in 2007, not to let clones compete.
Let’s focus on 2). The worry is basically that cloning is (in a weird sense) a performance-enhancement technology. A given horse’s odds are enhanced, in theory, by the fact that it is a clone of (let’s say) a champion from days gone by. But of course, cloning isn’t that expensive these days, at least not compared to the value of a champion horse (i.e., one conceived the old-fashioned way).
Also, note that to assume that cloning constitutes a significant unfair advantage presumes that nature is considerably more important than nurture. This may or may not be true with regard to elite horses — I honestly don’t know. As far as I’m concerned, it’s going to be an interesting experiment. If genetic determinists are correct, then a decade from now we should expect to see dressage and other equestrian sports dominated by a few hot lineages of clones.