Cloning the new frontier
OW Contributor | 4/23/2008, 5 p.m.
The FDA and package labeling
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued to U.S. food producers an approval to begin selling meat and dairy from cloned animals and their offspring. Some consumer groups question the long term safety of consuming meat and milk from clones. But the FDA reports that their assessment has been peer-reviewed by a number of independent, (but pro) cloning and health experts, who agree that livestock cloning is not only safe but "poses no unique risk to animal health when compared to other assertive reproductive technologies currently in use in U.S. agriculture." In December of 2006, the FDA released a draft of its animal clone safety assessment, concluding that "meat and milk from clones of adult cattle, pigs, goats and their offspring are (as) safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals."
Today, there are approximately 600 cloned animals living in the United States. Most were produced for show, (at state fairs and a few for the Rodeo industry). ViaGen, has produced about 300 of these 600 cloned animals, primarily cattle.
Food derived from animal clones will likely not hit the market for at least four or five years. And even then consumers will likely not eat a pork chop made from a cloned pig or drink milk from a cloned cow. Rather, they primarily would be consuming food made from naturally born animals that are the progeny of clones.
U.S. consumers feel strongly about clone labels and support label enforcement when cloned meat is made available at local supermarkets. As part of its ruling, the FDA decided not to require labels. But several states, (including California) have taken the issue of labeling to their state capitols. Bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country that call for words or symbols alerting shoppers to the presence of cloned foods
Across the country the language in all the bills is similar and strong. For instance, the Kentucky bill that was just recently introduced and is waiting a vote by its state legislature reads in part, "No person shall sell, offer or expose for sale, have in his possession for sale, or give away, for human consumption, any fresh or frozen meat, meat preparation, meat by-products, dairy food or dairy food product or poultry or poultry product derived from a cloned animal or its offspring unless the product is clearly and conspicuously labeled as such."
There are those who work in the field who feel that labeling will kill the business before it starts. Some food experts agree. "The problem with labeling is that it implies that something is wrong with the food," said William Hallman, director of the Food Policy Institute.
In all actuality if past battles over genetically modified foods are any indication, clone-labeling requirements may never see the light of day. In 1992, genetically modified food was given the green light by the federal government. (That's right, we've been eating cloned or as it is called, genetically modified vegetables, e.g., corn, peas, peanuts and soybeans, for over 15 years). Within days of the ruling, at least 16 states introduced bills that called for labeling of such food. None became law.
In a recent Pew Research poll, more than 64 percent of Americans say they are uncomfortable with animal cloning and 43 percent say they believe food from cloned animals is unsafe. Executives at companies involved in the animal cloning business admit they are battling great opposition. Mark Walton, president and CEO of ViaGen an Austin, Texas-based gene bank and cloning service said, "Much of what people have heard about cloning is from sci-fi and horror movies. And, the hero is never a clone."