Cloned meat gets approved to hit the market
By Christine Estevez
Would you like your meat well done, medium or cloned? On Jan. 16, 2008, having officially declared that products from cloned cattle, pigs and goats are just as safe to eat as meat from naturally bred animals, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of cloned meat in the U.S.
The FDA ruling was a major victory for cloning companies, such as Bovance, which hope to use cloned animals primarily for breeding purposes. It is unlikely that clones themselves will be available for consumers anytime soon, since they still cost substantially more than their naturally bred counterparts. Instead, it is mostly the meat and milk of second and third generation clone offspring that will enter our food supply.
One of the companies leading the development of this technology is ViaGen of Austin, Texas. ViaGen and other companies have already produced scores of clones that live on American farmsteads. Their goal is to use multiple copies of a superior animal to upgrade the genetics of entire herds. “Cloning animals is a reliable way of maintaining high-quality livestock to supply our nutritional needs,” said Candace Dobson, ViaGen’s Marketing Associate.
Although it will take a while before consumers are able to buy clone-derived food on a
wide scale–since cloned animals need time to mature and give birth to progeny used for food–in the next four or five years, cloned meat will hit store shelves nationwide and won’t have to be labeled as such. “There is no difference between a cloned animal and a naturally bred animal. A National Academy of Sciences review found that ‘somatic cell cloned cattle reportedly were physiologically, immunologically and behaviorally normal,'” Dobson said.
While the FDA has deemed meat from cloned animals safe, the topic remains controversial among some consumers. The Center for Food Safety continues to support a ban on the use of cloned animals in food production. “Until further research is completed and the animal cruelty and animal health problems associated with cloning in both clones and their offspring are resolved, the Center will stand firm in this decision,” said Jaydee Hanson, one of the Center’s policy analysts focused primarily on cloning issues.
There are some health and ethical concerns about potential negative side effects associated with cloning. But the FDA has concluded that cloning is no more invasive than other accepted forms of assisted reproduction, such as in vitro fertilization. “Because breeding the best possible stock improves the overall health and disease resistance of animal populations, cloning should reduce animal suffering over time,” Dobson said.
Hanson has a different view. Because cloned animals contain DNA from three animals–the male, the female that made the egg and the female that produces the cloned animal–often times there is a mismatch between the DNA that leads to animals that require more antibiotics and hormones to be healthy, and this mismatch is one of the major reasons for the low success rate of cloning. “One of the biggest risks associated with high amounts of antibiotics in our food supply is the potential for the development of super viruses,” Hanson said. “These viruses can adapt and evolve to become immune to antibiotics, subsequently reproducing to create a super virus that is anti-biotic resistant.”
The Center has asked the FDA to treat cloned animals as they treat other genetically engineered animals including requesting that producers of cloned animals be required to comply with the Federal Food and Drug Cosmetic Act’s new animal drug requirements, which give the FDA full authority to oversee the safety of food, drugs and cosmetics. “These new requirements aren’t great, but they force cloners to do more research because it’s a more rigorous standard,” said Hanson.
The new requirements make cloning companies have a larger sample size of clones by including multigenerational clones–only first generation clones have been studied, so there is very little information about second and third generation clones–and to address why so few clones are successful. “One of the scariest facts about cloned animal products is that we simply don’t know enough about them to pinpoint the risks that may be associated with eating them,” Hanson said. The Center also requested an Environmental Impact Statement be conducted to determine the environmental and health safety of all animal clones and their offspring.
Hanson agreed there is no physical way to tell whether or not the meat you purchase is cloned or naturally bred, but he went on to say, “Because we are unsure of what health or environmental differences may be associated with cloned meat, we feel that consumers have a right to know what they are eating and are thus fervently in support of a labeling system.” It’s true new technology is often met with some skepticism and resistance. Maybe it’s a simple matter of further educating meat consumers; perhaps the more we learn about cloning the more accepting we will become.
Christine Estevez is a junior journalism major. E-mail her at cesteve1[at]ithaca.edu.