Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal published an article under the headline "Animal Clones' Offspring Are in Food Supply." Why is this news? After all, in January the FDA ruled on the basis of the scientific evidence that
…meat and milk from clones of cattle, swine, and goats, and the offspring of clones from any species traditionally consumed as food, are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals…
The agency is not requiring labeling or any other additional measures for food from cattle, swine, and goat clones, or their offspring because food derived from these sources is no different from food derived from conventionally bred animals. Should a producer express a desire for voluntary labeling (e.g., "this product is clone-free"), it will be considered on a case-by-case basis to ensure compliance with statutory requirements that labeling be truthful and not misleading…
Because clones would be used for breeding, they would not be expected to enter the food supply in any significant number. Instead, their sexually reproduced offspring would be used for producing meat and milk for the marketplace…
An animal clone is a genetic copy of a donor animal, similar to an identical twin, but born at a different time. Cloning is not the same as genetic engineering, which involves altering, adding or deleting DNA; cloning does not change the gene sequence.
Evidently, the Journal story is that neo-Luddite activists are opposing food from cloned animals and their progeny. Must have been a very slow news day. What new (or even old) technology doesn't attract a coterie of "concerned" opponents nowadays? Of course, the Journal asks a mother for her scientific evaluation of the safety of meat and milk from the progeny of cloned animals:
"As a mom of two young children, it makes me very uneasy, very nervous that these things are in the food supply," said Alexis Joyce, a 35-year-old homemaker in Arlington, Va., who shops mostly at farmers' markets. "It just doesn't feel right."
Two leading anti-biotech groups, the Center for Food Safety (the bastard child, uh, spinoff of the deeply neo-Luddite International Center for Technology Assessment) and Friends of the Earth, sent around a press release today (press release not yet available on their websites) crowing that they had helped frightened
…20 of America's leading food producers and retailers [into stating] that they will not use cloned animals in their food.
Sigh. I do note that the activists' press release only claims that that they have so far managed to scare food vendors away from meat and milk from cloned animels, but does not mention meat and milk from the progeny of cloned animals. Of course, vendors must take the concerns, however ignorant or silly, of their customers into account, but they can also educate them.
In other news, the European Parliament just passed a measure urging
…the EU's executive branch to ban the cloning of animals for the food trade.
Why? Food safety does not appear to be the chief concern, but
…problems such as the animals' well-being and the higher mortality rate of cloned animals [and] … that cloning could considerably reduce the gene pool diversity and increase the risk of whole herds being hit by an illness they are all particularly susceptible to.
Regarding animal welfare, it is true that early on some clones were born with abnormalities, but a National Academy of Sciences report on animal biotech in 2002 pointed out
…the health and wellbeing of somatic cell clones approximated those of normal individuals as they advance into the juvenile stage. For example, somatic cell cloned cattle reportedly were physiologically, immunologically, and behaviorally normal….
As for genetic diversity concerns, cloning aims to increase the reproductive potential of the healthiest, best-producing animals. If EU parliamentarians are worried about the effect of cloning on farm animal diversity, I expect that they will soon outlaw veterinary artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization, too. And of course, far-seeing and wise parliamentarians are much better equipped to worry about farm animal genetic diversity than are farmers.
Finally, assuming that the neo-Luddites don't succeed, I am looking forward to the day when I can buy and eat a tasty Angus steak from a clone of Forever Lady 718 (see above).