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FDA approves food from cloned animals

(article, Kim Carlson)

A couple of weeks ago the nutrition guru Marion Nestle warned us that the Food and Drug Administration was all set to approve cloned animals for food. This morning's story in the Washington Post by Rick Weiss confirms it: The FDA has approved meat and milk from cloned cows for human consumption. 

Although the FDA report admitted that there were "moral, religious, and ethical concerns" about eating such animals, human health, the FDA stated, is not at risk. How do the governmental scientists know this? By relying on predictions, as they must in this new area of study:

bq.There was the overarching problem of deciding which measures would best predict whether the food was safe. Most puzzling was whether to take into account the subtle alterations in gene activity, called epigenetic changes, that are common in clones as a result of having just one parent.

bq.In the end, facing the reality that epigenetics have never been a factor in assessing the wholesomeness of food, agency scientists decided to use the same simple but effective standard used by farmers since the dawn of agriculture: If a farm animal appears in all respects to be healthy, then presume that food from that animal is safe to eat.

(This admittedly unscientific writer wonders, should epigenetics be a factor in assessing the wholesomeness of food from cloned animals?)

Cloned-animal foods are not expected to be available at the supermarket anytime soon. But when they are, consumers can expect labeling changes — although not the kind we might expect.

bq.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.

bq.When food from those animals hits the market, the public may yet have its say. FDA officials have said they do not expect to require food from clones to be labeled as such, but they may allow foods from ordinary animals to be labeled as not from clones. (Italics ours.)

Many, obviously, have decried the FDA's ruling:  

bq.Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, a Washington advocacy group that petitioned the FDA to restrict the sale of food from clones, said his group is considering legal action.

bq."One of the amazing things about this," Mendelson said, "is that at a time when we have a readily acknowledged crisis in our food-safety system, the FDA is spending its resources and energy and political capital on releasing a safety assessment for something that no one but a handful of companies wants."

Meanwhile, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has commented on the FDA findings. Says CSPI Biotechnology Director Gregory Jaffe, "While the safety of any food cannot be proven with absolute certainty, consumers should have confidence that meat and milk from cloned animals and their offspring will be safe."  

He adds:

bq.Most consumers will never eat a cloned animal. Those animals, which are very expensive to produce, primarily will be used as breeding stock and will end up as a minuscule portion of our food supply only at the end of their useful lives. Consumers may eventually eat or drink food that comes from the progeny of cloned animals. Those offspring at least do not encounter the same health problems as the clones themselves.

Will you welcome food from cloned animals? Or will you refrain from eating it?

Addendum: See today's Ethicurean post on the FDA approval (and don't miss the comments).