Technology

Cloned Meat: Surprisingly Similar to Regular Meat

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cloned cows

So here's the thing about meat from cloned animals, which the FDA recently approved for sale and general consumption: It's identical to ordinary meat. That's the whole deal with cloning, see. If it's not exactly the same, then it's not a clone.

With wearying inevitability, a movement has sprung up in the wake of the FDA's decision. They demand labeling and/or bans of cloned meat and milk on the state level. Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director of the Center for Food Safety, offers a perfect distillation the argument. "Since FDA refuses to wait for science to show what's really happening with cloned animals, it is now up to individual states to protect consumers and their families."

She wants proof that there is no possible harm from consumption of cloned meat. It is, of course, darned tough to prove a negative like this one.

The word clone has all kinds of scary connotations, which is most of the reason for the hoopla. America has been chowing down on modified corn and soybeans for years now to no ill effect. And those products are tweaked from their natural state–clones are just duplicated, which should make them even less threatening than their genetically-modified counterparts.

There are concerns that cloned meat could infiltrate the food supply in places that are less clone-friendly, like Europe, without anyone knowing. Testing, of course, would be impossible, since cloned meat is identical to non-cloned.

And so, the inevitable question: If it's impossible to tell the difference between the meat of cloned cows and the meat of conventionally bred cows by any known means in a lab, then why should state governments force producers to make two steaks from literally identical cows bear different labels, one implying risk to the consumer?

More on cloned meat here.

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  1. “That’s the whole deal with cloning, see. If it’s not exactly the same, then it’s not a clone.”

    No.

    Corrected assertion: If it’s not exactly [genetically] the same, then it’s not a clone.

    See: phenotypic plasticity.

  2. Again, producers of non-cloned beef will simply label their product as “non-cloned”. THe market takes care of itself.

  3. whoever discovered this will certainly become rich and it will do more to alleviate hunger than any altruist ever.

  4. She wants proof that there is no possible harm from consumption of cloned meat. It is, of course, darned tough to prove a negative like this one.

    Really? Is that what FDA testing standards do, prove that there is “no possible harm?”

    I’m pretty sure it doesn’t.

    This transparent straw-man gets thrown out every time there is as call for pre-market safety testing, and it’s a deliberate, self-serving misreading.

    And I say this as someone who finds concerns about the safety of cloned meat eye-rollingly stupid.

  5. Eating cloned meat? That’s almost as dangerous and disgusting as eating the offspring of animals bred for specific traits!

  6. I look forward to McDonald’s introducing the McClone burger. Every one guaranteed to taste exactly the same. Wait, they already do.

    On a more serious note, one application for this is cloning the absolute best meat cows to provide for endless wonderful steaks.

  7. The genes of cloned animals to too similar to other animals.

    The genes of GMOs are too different from other animals.

    But the genes of traditionally-bred animals are juuuussssssttttt riiiiiigggghhhhttttt.

  8. Provided that there isn’t a company out there that makes cloning products who gets courts to stop small farmers from labeling their meat as non-cloned, I have no problem.

  9. Wasn’t there just some story about how non-growth hormone milk couldn’t be labeled as such, because it idn’t any different from growth-hormone milk? And the pro hormoners don’t want to look bad for something that wasn’t bad, so now the anti hormoners can’t label their stuff?

    Sounds similar.

  10. I just want that chance for mad cow disease, so I will stay the hell away from beef from cloned, award-winning cows.

  11. They can tell you that their bottled water has no trans-fats, but they can’t tell you if the cows were raised with hormones?

  12. She wants proof that there is no possible harm from consumption of cloned meat. It is, of course, darned tough to prove a negative like this one.

    I disagree. If the meat is cloned then it’s as safe as the original it was copied from.

    innominate one:

    Corrected assertion: If it’s not exactly [genetically] the same, then it’s not a clone.

    Exactly. Which means that cows which are not cloned are not genetically identical to eachother. Just as I’m not genetically identical to you. So are we then saying that we need to test non-cloned cows for safety because they’re all different?

  13. Wasn’t there just some story about how non-growth hormone milk couldn’t be labeled as such, because it idn’t any different from growth-hormone milk? And the pro hormoners don’t want to look bad for something that wasn’t bad, so now the anti hormoners can’t label their stuff?

    Reference or link, please. I’m not saying your wrong, but evidence tends to help an argument. If what you say is true (and hasn’t been overturned on appeal), I’m appalled.

  14. nice watermark on the photo. just for general elegance?

  15. It’s new, it’s “unnatural”, I don’t read enough to understand it. Therfore it’s baaaad. Very baaaad. Yet these people eat corn, beef, and chickens like those aren’t unnatural. Sheesh.

  16. Yet these people eat corn, beef, and chickens like those aren’t unnatural.

    These people probably eat “lunchables”. If that’s not unnatural, I don’t know what is. Maybe Twinkies.

  17. Despite the fact that Katherine Mangu-Ward isn’t qualified to issue pronouncements vis-a-vis what’s safe and what isn’t safe, and despite the fact that she offered this while being oblivious to this, I vaguely trust her to make the above proclamation. But, then again I have a soft spot for corporate shills.

    Of course, I wonder whether Reason would push this if some small set of people somewhere weren’t going to be able to make money off it. I also wonder whether they’d push for the true libertarian approach of requiring those who would profit to post a bond guaranteeing restitution to anyone who could be harmed should there turn out to be problems decades down the line. No one really knows whether there will be problems, and by the time those problems are known those who Reason is trying to help (for some reason or other) might be long gone.

  18. Despite the fact that Katherine Mangu-Ward isn’t qualified to issue pronouncements vis-a-vis what’s safe and what isn’t safe

    They are clones. They are ExactlyAsSafe as TheOriginalAnimal because they share IdentitcalGenes.

    Go back to watching The 6th Day.

  19. I also wonder whether they’d push for the true libertarian approach of requiring those who would profit to post a bond guaranteeing restitution to anyone who could be harmed should there turn out to be problems decades down the line.

    Who needs these bonds? That’s what product liability lawyers are for.

  20. I dunno about milk, but I have noticed lately that some chicken packaging has “HORMONE-FREE!” in large letters, and fine print on the bottom that says something like “USDA regs prohibit the use of hormones in poultry for human consumption”

  21. 1. Despite FDA’s claim that there is “no difference” between food from clones and their progeny and food from naturally-bred animals, most of the studies they reviewed found troubling abnormalities and defects in animal clones which could pose food safety risks.

    2. Evidence from the Agency’s own report and from other scientists shows that cloning does not produce identical “twins” and that cloning therefore may not be useful in breeding. In fact, studies have found that clones from the same parent differ significantly from each other and from their parent animal. A recent scientific study concluded that scientists and breeders agree that cloning may not be useful for livestock production.

    3. The FDA review contradicts itself, first claiming that genetically defective clones will pose no risk to the food supply because the sick animals will be detected and removed, but then admitting that some sick and defective clones may in fact end up as food.

    4. FDA says the defects seen in clones also occur in natural reproduction, differing only by degree in clones, but the Agency also finds several defects in clones that are rarely or never seen in normal animals. For example, one common abnormality in clones that can result in stillbirth or early death – or death of the mother – occurs in normal cows only once in 7,500 instances, while it may occur in up to 42% of cloned cows.

    5. While the FDA claims that improvement in cloning technology is resulting in better success rates for clones, a 2005 scientific review found that success rates in cloning remain less than 5%.

    6. FDA asserts that the offspring of clones – not clones themselves – will be used for food and that genetic defects in clones are “corrected” in the offspring. But – as the Center finds, the National Academy of Sciences has questioned the validity of this assumption. Even more troubling, FDA downplays or omits from their assessment studies finding that some genetic defects in clones have been reproduced in clones’ offspring.

    These are the actual objections to the FDA’s ruling. Any takers?

  22. In a world full of fear of nothing – it’s refreshing to see comments such as these.

    I laughed out loud at Abdul’s comment, “Eating cloned meat? That’s almost as dangerous and disgusting as eating the offspring of animals bred for specific traits!”

  23. Even if Joe’s points aren’t valid (and really, first gen clones, no, from a scientific POV all the FDA can really say is, nothing on the horizon now, but down the line-long term observation-is the only way to actually know-long term, anyone who has ever worked with genetics knows there are literally an infinity of things that “could” go wrong.)

    I’m betting that my market rights are going to get smashed by this.

    Again and again I am being deprived of the choice to CHOOSE, based on my own knowledge. The milk industry is constantly arguing that milk should not be labeled correctly for market choices.

    Personally, I see scads of benefits, and scads of potential problems with cloning.

    My question, is will I be allowed to choose?

    Fear is being used as an excuse again and again to deny me that right, a basic property right about how I spend my dollars, and what I ingest.

    Much of that opposition to the free market has been expressed in this zine, and I suspect that, long term, my market rights will be denied in favor of the “rights” of “corporations”. And I’m awfully dubious of a world in which a corporation automatically has more rights than I do.

  24. Without a sufficient understanding of animal husbandry and of the molecular genetics of cloning in higher organisms, no joe, I can’t take this one. Not without reading the studies for myself.

    Any of us who eat cultured dairy products eat clones.

    Cloning is the keystone of the production of many drugs and vaccines.

    The extent of my understanding of molecular genetics tells me that there should be no appreciable risk of ill effects from eating cloned meat. I do know, however, that cloning could be a bad idea for the health of the herd. See the example of turkeys.

    Breed out the variability, and you wind up with a population that is orders of magnitude more susceptible to disease than a more varied one.

    That said, as with turkeys, much of the variability has already been bred out of the cattle population.

    And that’s about all I can contribute.

  25. Lawrence –
    buh…what?
    Where in this post does it want to deny you the ability to choose for or against cloned meat?

  26. It’s not in the post, it’s in the law of the land and previous coverage in the mag concerning the opposition (although not in every case) to any kind of labeling that would allow me to choose.

  27. sick animals will be detected and removed, but then admitting that some sick and defective clones may in fact end up as food.

    Joe,

    Sick and defective because they’re clones, or sick and defective clones?

    Aren’t we trying to ferret out whether food is unsafe becuase of its status as a clone?

  28. An really, if you do read the post, she is definitely mocking pro-market folks like myself who might want labels to aid us in the right to choose.

    Apparently it’s all to scary for my little head to wrap around.

  29. Lawrence,

    “Joe’s points” were cut and pasted from the link no one else read.

  30. Good for you, Bronwyn! That is the correct answer.

    Incorrect answers include “Clones is scary,” “I hate hippies, so they’re wrong,” “Ye be takin’ away me rights!” and “What part of ‘the same genes’ don’t you understand?”

  31. Lawrence –
    so… you mean the article wants to restrict your right to choose because… it doesn’t support mandatory labeling, even though it says nothing about whether or not companies should be allowed to label?

  32. An really, if you do read the post, she is definitely mocking pro-market folks like myself who might want labels to aid us in the right to choose.

    Apparently it’s all to scary for my little head to wrap around.

    Then how about you do some research. I happen to be fine with trusting my local supermarket to not sell me stuff that will kill me. Why should I have to pay for your piece of mind as well?

  33. If you eat a clone of a clone of a clone, you could get Stupid Cow Disease. Trust me on this.

  34. Golly, joe. *wipes tear* That means so much coming from you.

    I keed, I keed!

    So what do I win? A stimulus package that sucks cloned donkey balls!?!? AWESOME!

  35. “I hate hippies, so they’re wrong,”

    This answer is never, ever wrong.

    Ever.

  36. I love hippies. They’re a great source of amusement. They just happen to also be usually wrong. About…stuff…

  37. I do know, however, that cloning could be a bad idea for the health of the herd.

    My understanding of cloning technology as it stood several years ago was that a clone is a copy of the adult from which it was copied. Therein lies the problem. There’s no difference between the eight-year-old cow and the newborn calf. The newborn has all of the aged characteristics of the eight-year-old.

    It was explained to me once as thus:

    The ‘strands’ of DNA in your body contain information. As we age, that ‘strand’ becomes ‘frayed’ at the ends, and as such loses information. When you copy that strand, you copy the information that exists at the time of the copy (naturally). So when the newborn pops out, it very quickly it takes on the characteristics of the more aged original. Basically, it’s almost like it has progeria.

  38. “Cloning is the keystone of the production of many drugs and vaccines.”

    Subtly different meaning of cloning in those cases.

    “Paul | January 25, 2008, 1:41pm | #

    I disagree. If the meat is cloned then it’s as safe as the original it was copied from.

    innominate one:

    Corrected assertion: If it’s not exactly [genetically] the same, then it’s not a clone.

    Exactly. Which means that cows which are not cloned are not genetically identical to each other. Just as I’m not genetically identical to you. So are we then saying that we need to test non-cloned cows for safety because they’re all different?”

    No. or yes. I can’t tell what you’re asking. My original point was only that her formulation was inaccurate. You could say “There is no effect of cloning animals on how safe they are for humans to consume.” Other factors still come into play. Genetically identical herds, but one is grazing on feed grown at a contaminated site.

    Yes, I’m a semantics fascist.

  39. I imagine cloned meat will be perfectly safe as long as it passes other USDA regulations.

    The problem is that many people who are for cloned meat act as if it solve world hunger or something, when it most certainly won’t. It’s like those gigantic cabbages they used to show in the 50’s when plant hormones were discovered that never really solved anything.

  40. Paul – the frayed ends you’re talking about are called telomeres. They start out long and shorten with each division over time.

    tio – I know they’re different. I’m a molecular geneticist by training. The point was people think “clone! Scary!” without realizing that not all cloning is the stuff of horror films.

  41. Abdul writes: That’s what product liability lawyers are for.

    Yes, but they need someone to sue, and those who profit from this now might be long gone by the time issues arise. And, shills like the “libertarians” at Reason facing some liability is rather remote, although certainly possible. But, even so, what would they get beyond Gillespie’s pleather jacket?

  42. Oh my God! Did you know there are millions of clones already alive on this planet? They’re called identical twins! What if a cow has identical twin calves? That’s cloned meat! Burn them and bury the ashes 10 feet deep! The sky is falling, the sky is falling!

  43. Innominate one,

    My response was a bit muddled. So goose-step away.

    It seems to me that the thread has become bogged down in details that aren’t central to the question of the safey of cloned animals for human consumption.

    Genetically identical herds, but one is grazing on feed grown at a contaminated site.

    this is what I’m trying to get to. There seems to be assertions that animals which are cloned might be unsafe by the mere fact they’re cloned. I’m simply asking: unsafe because they’re cloned, or they’re unsafe animals that happen to be from clones?

    I was merely posing the hypothetical that if we can’t trust animals which are genetically identical, should we not trust the ones which are genetically different through natural process?

    Mutt:

    It’s like those gigantic cabbages they used to show in the 50’s when plant hormones were discovered that never really solved anything.

    I don’t know anything specific about gigantic cabbages in the fifties, but I do know that gm foods (probably from that same line of research) have revolutionized the expanded growth of food beyond traditional “organic” (whatever that means) methods. Distribution, however, still remains a political problem.

    Bronwyn:

    The point was people think “clone! Scary!” without realizing that not all cloning is the stuff of horror films.

    The question that begs is, what cloning is the stuff of horror films?

  44. Paul – the frayed ends you’re talking about are called telomeres. They start out long and shorten with each division over time.

    Also, the telomeres don’t contain genetic “information.” They are just “caps.”

    I’m pretty sure it’s not true that the clone will necessarily contain an exact copy of the genome the original animal had during embryonic development though. Crossing over and various mutations can happen during mitosis (when cells divide). Therefore, the cloned progeny may develop differently than the “parent.”

    However, I can’t see how it would create safety issues that don’t already exist with progeny produced by sexual reproduction.

    P.S. Any geneticists out there, feel free to kick my ass. I only have one semester of undergraduate genetics under my belt.

  45. However, I can’t see how it would create safety issues that don’t already exist with progeny produced by sexual reproduction.

    Ding!!! Thank you ‘Another Phil’. That’s the info I’m looking for, and trying to understand. Wouldn’t any changes that do occur during gestation be the same types of changes that occurred through natural reproduction?

    It seems like scientists are being forced to provide a difinitive answer to a flawed question.

  46. Paul –

    I’d say scientists are being asked to find evidence to support a common sense assertion, instead of taking the common sense assertion as absolute truth.

    Bronwyn:

    okay. ecological geneticist here.

    Another Phil:

    true, but could also be true of cells within your own body, or between identical twins. we’ll call it close enough to identical to make no difference.

    Paul:

    I can hypothesize some unlikely scenarios, I was just taking issue with Katherine’s semantics.

  47. Yes, it’s pretty ugly how people throw around the notion that animal-clone=same-genes=absolutely-identical. Unfortunately, reason doesn’t get you very far without facts too.

    Clones are only “identical” in having the same NUCLEAR DNA SEQUENCE. And all those qualifiers are important — clones do not have the “same DNA”. They do not necessarily share mitochondrial DNA. And more importantly, DNA’s properties are dependent on much more than the base pair sequence. (Bring in the telomere issue and then you have clones whose nuclear DNA sequence won’t even match the original perfectly.)

    No, cloned animals are not identical; they are not the equivalent of selectively bred animals; they are not the equivalent of GM animals with genes added to their genomes; they are not equivalent to identical twins; and they are not equivalent to “cloned” unicellular organisms.

    One of the interesting things about cloning is that it’s kinda like the discovery of fire: people figured out how to make it happen long before they understood the details of WHY it happened. There’s much that is unknown in the biology relevant to cloning.

    All that having been said, I’m not sure how ANY of the unknowns about cloning, or any of the problems clones are said to encounter, would threaten the food supply. Your body doesn’t care how long telomeres are, it will still just digest them when you eat the meat. If a clone’s physiology doesn’t match that of its original, the food may taste different, but I don’t see how it could be dangerous for humans to eat it — all the polymers will be digested to their monomeric form before leaving the gut lumen, and whether a particular part of a particular chromosome was aberrantly methylated in a cow’s living cells will not change the fact that in your gut it’s all going to be molecularly chopped up beyond recognition anyway.

    That’s the hidden crux of all this: the “health” interface is digestion, not a cow’s living physiology. Veal tastes great and is fine for your health, but the animals it comes from are NOT healthy. The list joe copied is important to consider because it indicates that cloning is not a productive boon (as yet?), but nothing in there suggests cloned meat will be chemically toxic, a carrier of contagions, non-nutritious, difficult to digest, or anything relevant to human consumption. There is no way a clone, even if its genes or physiology are completely wacked out, could “infect” you with its own problems.

  48. Ventifact,

    all the polymers will be digested to their monomeric form before leaving the gut lumen, and whether a particular part of a particular chromosome was aberrantly methylated in a cow’s living cells will not change the fact that in your gut it’s all going to be molecularly chopped up beyond recognition anyway.

    The changed DNA would code for different proteins. Aren’t prions just oddly-shaped proteins, and they are not digested when consumed.

    It’s not difficult to understand how there could be a problem with unusual protein coding.

  49. If the “Center for Food Safety” existed when man discovered fire and used it to cook the elk they hunted down they would of insisted that fire be banned until such a time that science could show the effect of animals cooked with fire. O

    Rebecca Spector is not one I have any faith to give me information that I can trust is accurate. Even with their flaws the FDA has just a bit more credibility even me.

  50. joe,

    There are reasonably conceivable ways clones could end up being harmful. The two main examples that come to mind are the accidental production of prions by improperly functioning cells, and nutritionally dangerous meat from improperly functioning cells (perhaps the cells have much higher cholesterol than normal, for example).

    However, I would expect these problems to be easily discernable. BSE does take some years to manifest in an afflicted cow, but based on the points you yourself copied into the thread for us, I don’t expect cloning to be a significant contributor to food supply for a while yet. But you do bring up a valid concern.

  51. … A valid, but not pressing, concern. There is also no known indication that I’m aware of suggesting clones would be sources of BSE or another prion disease. My main focus is that of all the ways food can be dangerous, clones do not stand out among the crowd as particular menaces in any category.

  52. By the way, prions are “oddly shaped” proteins, but to be more specific they are oddly folded proteins. The folding process is fairly involved (and I can’t say I know all too much about it) but it is not directly dependent on the nuclear DNA. It is performed by a set of non-nuclear organelles and enzymes. But of course any of these could be affected by a clone’s biological abnormalities.

  53. Don’t hear anyone screaming about people eating bananas, or most varieties of apples, which are grafted so as to be genetically identical (i.e. clones).

    Pre-emptive disclosure: Yes, I’m a shill for Big Banana.

  54. Yeah, what Ventifact said. ‘n stuff.

  55. Not all “cloning” is the same thing. Plants and animals have vastly different physiology. Plants are specifically adapted to vegetative (clonal) reproduction, while mammals are decidedly not (now starfish, maybe…).

  56. The meat is always sweeter next to the bone.

    Ignore all else.

    Can the Little Woman make gravy from cloned meat?

    Ignore all else.

  57. joe-

    From what I know of DNA methylation (and I only know a little about this rapidly advancing field) they wouldn’t code for different proteins, but rather the genes wouldn’t be expressed. The levels of certain proteins might be lower, and if those proteins provide feedback then other proteins might be more abundant. So relative abundances of certain substances might change (within whatever tolerances are feasible for an organism that still grows to adulthood) but the actual proteins themselves would not change.

    I’m not 100% on this, however.

  58. No, prolefeed, grafting is not the same as cloning, either.

    Reread ventifact’s comments, please.

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