Insights by Goldie
FDA says, “Bring on the clones!”
Sound Consumer | February 2007
by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has more food follies in store for us. Meat and dairy products from cloned animals are quite likely to be cleared for sale at a supermarket or restaurant near you as early as 2008.
It’s also likely that we won’t know if what we buy is from cloned animals, because there probably won’t be any requirement to label it.
This scenario is proposed in a 700-page report from the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, the Draft Animal Cloning Risk Assessment — despite research showing most Americans wouldn’t like it. A December 2006 poll by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology found 64 percent are uncomfortable with cloning and 46 percent are extremely uncomfortable.
The FDA says it cannot, by law, consider either consumer sentiments or the ethics of cloning — only science. No other country in the world has approved food from cloned animals.
Many of you may wonder what cloning involves and whether it will be accepted by organic standards. First, cloning is somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), which involves removing an egg’s own DNA, then replacing it with the DNA of a specific animal chosen to be cloned. The embryo that develops is implanted into a surrogate mother and a purportedly “identical” copy of the original animal results.
It’s too expensive to clone animals “just” to produce milk or meat; rather it’s targeted at re-creating specific animals for reproduction, to keep their “superior” qualities. Theoretically someone’s prize bull becomes immortal.
Contrary to some recent incorrect articles, SCNT involves cell fusion, a process which does involve genetic engineering and therefore absolutely is not permitted by the standards of the USDA’s National Organic Program.
I can hear many of you exhaling in relief, thinking “OK, I’ll just be sure to buy organic meat and milk.” That will provide short-term benefits to organic producers and reassure some consumers. But simply buying organic doesn’t address the larger, serious concern — the need to protect and improve all meat and milk safety.
We’re at a particularly sensitive time on the planet environmentally. Scientists should not be furthering dangerous methods that needlessly narrow and weaken the genetic pool of animals (and plants). Rather, scientists should be working to protect and stabilize native and heirloom plant and animal genetic diversity, which are historically the best defenses to withstand potentially devastating diseases and other environmental disruptions.
We always should oppose subjecting animals to suffering and pain, especially through experiments such as cloning. Cloning has produced some heartbreaking physical aberrations.
Yet the FDA has concluded that the meat or milk of cloned cows, pigs or goats (only those three species, for now), or the meat or milk of the clone’s offspring is “as safe to eat as the food we eat every day.” Wow. The speaker was the FDA’s chief of veterinary medicine, according to a New York Times interview, and the twisted truth imbedded in that casual quote sums up the failed food safety system for me better than anything else I’ve seen in a long while.
Most meat and dairy products the official refers to as “eaten every day” are those produced by the dominant and dangerous industrial food and farming system. For the official to use this as his reference point and to cite it as the standard for comparing the safety of food from clones might be all too accurate.
It’s not a comforting reassurance that either the “standard” or the cloned product is safe and wholesome. It certainly should not be an acceptable indication that the FDA is meeting its mission as the guardian of our food supply to assess all aspects of “safety” independently and fairly.
The FDA simply is following its usual pattern of ignoring consumer concerns and opinions when it’s at odds with industry interests. The FDA consistently (and deviously) has blocked every effort of consumers and consumer organizations seeking mandatory labels on genetically engineered foods.
Perhaps we can turn this pattern around. Technically, the issue of labeling cloned food is not closed. See below for how to let the FDA know what you think. The FDA will take comments until April 2 — but don’t fool around — contact them before April Fool’s day!