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January 16, 2008

FDA: Food From Clones is Safe UPDATE

After years of study, the FDA has announced that food from cloned animals is safe to eat. It will not require disclosure requirements or labeling for food in supermarkets that comes from clones, although there is no chance of that type of thing happening in the near future:

In practice, it will be years before foods from clones make their way to store shelves in appreciable quantities, in part because the clones themselves are too valuable to slaughter or milk. Instead, the pricey animals -- replicas of some of the finest farm animals ever born -- will be used primarily as breeding stock to create what proponents say will be a new generation of superior farm animals.

I don't have a problem with the idea, and I'd eat cloned food without flinching. But the study and its announcement have led to many objections, the best of which I've found is from Zelig Golden at the Jew and the Carrot. I encourage you to click over and read it, but I will summarize his points.

First, cloned animals have not actually been proven to be safe. The FDA only looked at whether the live animals appear to be healthy (its usual method of determining if food will be safe to eat). It did not collect any data on unusual hormone or antibiotics levels in the animals.

I've never really understood the recent fad for hormone and drug-free meat, but when it comes to animals that have themselves been cloned, this will be an important issue. At present, when producers are only planning on sending descendants of clones to the supermarket aisle, the hormones and antibiotics in the animals will be the same as in the rest of the herd. The cloning will have no unusual impact at that level.

Second, cloning is an "animal welfare issue." I don't get this objection at all, so I'll just reproduce Golden (get it? "Reproduce Golden"!?):

Animal cloning represents a fundamental change in our relationship with animals. Instead of humans assisting or acting as midwives in animal reproduction, cloning allows humans to become wholesale creators of genetic “replicas” of existing animals.

No problem from me; they're a food source, not a companion. But some may care.

Third, the public and religious leaders oppose cloned food or cloning in general. The FDA does not take that type of thing into account when it determines if food is safe, nor should it, in my opinion.

Fourth, Golden fears that cloning puts a "few large corporations" in control of our food supply. That's a little much for me to believe, and the Monsanto boogey-man makes an appearance in Golden's argument. I do agree with him that courts and the U.S. patent office have been far too willing to hand out patents for organisms. But that's a reason to pass legislation to fix the courts and the PTO, not to oppose cloning.

Finally, Golden asks a question that doesn't impact me personally, but which I'm curious about the answer: "Is meat from cloned animals kosher?" He doesn't know the answer to that one, but I'm genuinely curious.

Elsewhere, I've seen one other objection raised: it reduces genetic diversity in the cloned species. As I said then, I’m not too concerned about genetic diversity in bovine populations or other food animals. We're not going to ever expect them to sustain a population in the wild.

What do you think? I've tucked a poll into the extended entry.

UPDATE: LauraW. directs me to the news that we're already eating meat from the offspring of clones and don't even know it.

Executives from the nation's major cattle cloning companies reportedly conceded Tuesday that they have not been able to keep track of how many offspring of clones have entered the food supply, despite a years-old request by the FDA to keep them off the market pending completion of the agency's safety report.

At least one Kansas cattle producer also reportedly disclosed Tuesday 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," Donald Coover, a Galesburg cattleman and veterinarian who has a specialty cattle semen business, was quoted as saying. "Anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn't know what they're talking about, or they're not being honest."

Joke's on you! That Big Mac is made from mutant-meat! (As if we didn't already know that.)

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 02:17 AM

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