Sending Sperm Abroad

When I tell you the United States is sending a lot of semen abroad, I’m not talking about sailors.

There’s talk that America can’t make anything anymore. The rest of the world doesn’t respect our goods and services. The French bomb McDonald’s. Asia now controls vast sectors of the international high-tech business. Our foreign-trade deficit has ballooned to a record annual rate of $425 billion.

But whatever economic problems America may have, we can at least raise our fists and tell the world with pride that we are the No. 1 exporter of human sperm.

That’s right; the French may be the leading authorities on romance, and the Latin Americans may take pride in their machismo, but foreigners are nonetheless buying our semen. Four of the five largest sperm banks are based in the United States, and they control an estimated 65 percent of a burgeoning international business believed to be worth between $50 million to $100 million.

That’s chump change to a hard-core macroeconomist, and to be sure, I’m not suggesting sperm dollars will ever be able to correct the trade balance or make up for all the foreign-manufactured DVD players we’re importing. But this is a psychological boost that we Americans should savor.

Squiggling to Canada

While former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole has taken to the airways to talk about erectile dysfunction, and Hollywood stars are pumping up with steroids and human growth hormones, it’s nice to know this country can still produce in one area where it counts. And in great quantities.

Yes, American sperm is squiggling into Western Europe, Asia and the Middle East at record levels. In recent weeks, Canada has announced that it has a sperm shortage, and it will be turning primarily to the United States for help.

How’d that happen? An inspection of Canadian fertility clinics last year — ordered after a woman who received semen from a sperm bank became infected with chlamydia — uncovered widespread irregularities in the mandatory testing of semen samples.

Now 35 of Canada’s 49 sperm banks and clinics have been ordered to quarantine some or all of their sperm, leaving an inadequate supply for the 2,000 women and infertile couples expected to seek assistance this year.

“The stocks have decreased dramatically,” fertility specialist Roger Pierson, president of the Canadian Fertility and Adrology Society, told Reuters.

Much of that demand is now being met by U.S. firms, Pierson said, because they can adhere to the tougher new standards.

“It’s an opportunity for us. Right now, we are having trouble keeping up with demand,” says David Towles, spokesman for Xytex Corp. in Atlanta, a major U.S. sperm bank. A third of all Xytex’s foreign orders come from Canada, and the company recently opened a subsidiary in Toronto.

According to the World Trade Center Institute in Baltimore, a private, nonprofit trade promotion group, the export of human glands and secretions to Canada topped $1.5 million in the first nine months of 2000, up 139 percent compared to the same period the previous year.

Towles estimates that in the next year, Canadians will be plunking down $3 million to $5 million for high-grade, U.S. sperm.

Spermatozoa With a Pedigree

Now let’s define “high grade.” The means the sperm has been screened for disease, has a high level of motility (that is, they swim fast enough to reach their target), and comes with background information on the donor.

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