03/30/2005 1:00AM

British give horse-cloning OK


In a reversal of policy, the British government has approved the cloning of horses, England's Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday.

Professor Twink Allen, an equine reproduction professor at Cambridge who heads the Equine Fertility Unit in Newmarket, will now receive a license allowing him to clone horses for research purposes. But he will not be allowed to clone for commercial purposes. The Jockey Club registries in Britain and the United States do not allow cloned Thoroughbreds, meaning that such horses cannot compete at a racecourse.

The government's Home Office last year denied Allen's request to implant cloned equine embryos in mares, citing animal welfare concerns.

"I'm very pleased but disappointed they haven't gone the whole hog and allowed us sensibly to clone for commercial reasons, where there is a real need for it," Allen told the Guardian after receiving word of the reversal. "The value of the cloning there would be to recreate the champion gelding, or at least his testicles."

Allen expressed optimism that his research into equine cloning might someday convince cloning's opponents to allow commercial use of the procedure.

"If by doing this we can show that we don't turn out a bunch of abnormal, suffering animals, they might be able to have their minds changed," he said.

Animal rights activists decried the government's reversal, saying the effort to clone horses was based on commercial rather than scientific interests.