Hello Dolly! Cloned meat and milk coming to your table soon

January 16, 2008

The USDA yesterday asked U.S. farmers to keep their cloned animals off the market indefinitely even as FDA officials announced that food from cloned livestock is safe to eat.

Bruce I. Knight, the USDA’s undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, requested an ongoing “voluntary moratorium” (repeat voluntary, like in “voluntary recall” and “voluntary ban,” meaning “we won’t make you do it”) to buy time for “an acceptance process” that Knight said consumers in the US and abroad will need, “given the emotional nature of this issue.”

The fact that 64 percent of US consumers apparently don’t want to eat food from clones hasn’t yet dimmed the excitement (Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology survey, 2006, CNN unofficial poll this a.m.); and since the FDA won’t be requiring any special labeling for the products, maybe it never will.

Technically, many unknowing consumers may already be eating cloned food. Livestock cloning has been going on since at least 2002. In 2003, the FDA issued a voluntary ban on food products from cloned animals and their offspring until the organization could look into the safety of those products. The milk, meat and other animal products that were on store shelves before the ban were never labeled as coming from clones, and the later ban relied on voluntary self-regulation within the livestock industry. It has never actually been illegal to sell cloned animal products.

With regard to labeling, the FDA requires special labeling only when the use of biotechnology introduces an allergen, or when it substantially changes the food’s nutritional content.

At least one Kansas cattle producer disclosed yesterday that he has openly sold semen from prize-winning clones to many U.S. meat producers in the past few years, and that he is certain he is not alone.

“This is a fairy tale that this technology is not being used and is not already in the food chain,” said Donald Coover, a Galesburg cattleman and veterinarian who has a specialty cattle semen business. “Anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or they’re not being honest.”

The biotech industry (farm-animal cloning) groups are out in full force, specifically rejecting proposals to label food from cloned offspring claiming that cloning is simply a way to make offspring.

The fact remains, once again, that we “the people,” are deliberately being left out of the loop. We deserve more.

Why we should demand the “Right to Choose:”

  • •Cloning is an unproven technology. There has not been enough time and testing since livestock cloning began to know if it’s really safe for mass consumption in the long run.
    •The FDA’s decision not to require special labeling means that people won’t have the option to chose not to consume cloned products without doing a lot of timely research or going vegan. It also means that any unexpected consequences (allergies, for example) of eating cloned animal products will be impossible to trace. However, with surveys showing that so many people are wary of cloning in the food chain, food suppliers who don’t use cloning in their breeding process may start putting “no clone” labels on their products, much like you see the “no growth hormone” labels on some products today.
    •Cloning reduces diversity in a given population, making livestock more vulnerable to disease. Since cloning is more expensive than natural breeding, an insistence by the top U.S. suppliers on perfected, cloned animals would cut small ranchers out of the livestock market (four companies slaughter and package 84 percent of livestock products sold in the United States, according to the Humane Society).
    •And then, of course, there is the moral and ethical debate that inevitably surrounds cloning in any form. What are the overarching implications of removing sexual reproduction from the mammalian equation? What will it mean for the future of livestock? What will it mean for the future of humans?

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