Cloned food off the table for now

December 19, 2007

Food from cloned animals will take longer than expected to enter our food supply, following the passage of a provision in the Senate’s Farm Bill that requires more testing. The amendment calls for a rigorous review of the human health and economic impacts of introducing cloned foods.

Advanced by Senators Barbara Mikulski and Arlen Specter, amendment 3524 was designed to address concerns that the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) risk assessment of the controversial technology was flawed. The FDA issued its assessment of the available scientific evidence surrounding cloning, which concluded that there were no additional safety risks posed by the technology when compared to other assisted reproductive technologies currently in use in US agriculture. However, fierce opposition from scientists, health groups, consumer advocacies and even industry sparked a heated debate, which culminated in the proposal of an amendment to the 2007 Farm Bill. The US Senate on Friday passed the bill by an overwhelming majority of 79-14.

According to the Center for Food Safety (CFS), a public interest group at the forefront of the fight against cloning, “the FDA’s flawed and cavalier approach to cloned food and its potential impacts called for a truly rigorous scientific assessment. At a time when the FDA has repeatedly failed the public, this amendment will ensure that the American consumer is considered before any special interest,” said Joseph Mendelson, legal director of CFS.

The amendment requires that two rigorous studies be performed before the FDA is able to issue a final decision on food from clones. It directs the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to convene a blue-ribbon panel of leading scientists to review the FDA’s initial decision that food from cloned animals is safe.

The amendment further requires the NAS to study the potential health impacts of cloned foods entering the nation’s food supply, including the possible health effects of lessened milk consumption as a result of consumer avoidance of cloned food.

The bill also directs the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to examine consumer acceptance of cloned foods and the likely impacts they could have on domestic and international markets.

“I believe in science, in research, and in a transparent process. Before we allow cloned animals into our food supply, we must know more about it. When something is this new, unclear and uncertain, we need to be sure,” said Senator Mikulski. “Just because something has been created in a lab, doesn’t mean we should have to eat it. If we discover a problem with cloned food after it is in our food supply and it’s not labeled, the FDA won’t be able to recall it like they did Vioxx – the food will already be tainted. We have been down this road before with product safety – the FDA has a credibility crisis,” she said.

A recent national survey commissioned by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), found that 50 percent of American consumers have an unfavorable view of cloning, while 28 percent remain neutral. And a recent survey by the Consumers Union found that 89 percent of Americans want food from cloned animals to be labeled.

It is now up to the Senate and House Agriculture Committees to agree on the provisions of the final bill during conference, which will take place in early 2008.

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