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Weird science

(article, Stan Hall)

The Food and Drug Administration recently gave preliminary approval to cloned cattle, pigs, and goats, deeming their meat and milk safe to eat. But will Americans really want to eat unlimited genetic copies of Wilbur the Wonder Pig? 

A recent Pew study found that “animal cloning causes great discomfort among American consumers,” with 64 percent of respondents uncomfortable with the very concept of animal cloning, and 43 percent believing clones unsafe to eat.

The FDA has stated there is "no science-based reason to apply additional safeguards" for meat and milk from clones, because these products show no "nutritionally or toxicologically important differences" from products produced by nonclones. Therefore, said Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, the FDA has no authority to require labels for clone products.

According to Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America, this potential lack of labels is a consumer-rights issue.

“I should have freedom not to spend my money and not to eat products that offend me,” Foreman told the Los Angeles Times. “Some people only drink fair-trade coffee. Others only choose organic food. Others choose halal or kosher food. This product, which causes great discomfort to a great number of people, goes on the market with no labeling that enables me to make a choice.”

Label-free meat and milk would benefit biotechnology companies poised to make a fortune from increased livestock cloning, as well as those ranchers wealthy enough to pay the current five-figure fees to clone prize bulls and other animals. 

Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, called the FDA’s assessment “bad science” and a “rush to judgment.” But even if the FDA’s findings are accurate and scientifically sound, the labeling question won’t go away. 

The FDA’s assessment also disregards numerous health issues: whether cloning is safe for the animals themselves (a high percentage of cloned animals are born with grievous deformities), whether cloning is necessary in food production, and whether cloning provides any benefits to consumers.

For now, the controversy may be a tempest in a crock pot; after all, as International Dairy Foods Association spokeswoman Susan Ruland told the Associated Press, “It really may be somewhat premature to be talking about a label when the FDA said (cloned) meat and milk won’t be in the food supply in the foreseeable future.” But if no one asks for labels, it’s pretty certain they won’t appear.