Unless you haven’t turned on a television or radio or read a newspaper since mid-January, you know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent down its final approval on animal cloning.
After years of review, FDA scientists said the data show that cloning is a safe option for cattle, pigs and goats, and that the meat and milk products from cloned animals and their offspring are safe for human consumption. FDA also confirmed that the milk and meat products are “no different” from those produced by “conventional” animals, so there’s no need for special labels. FDA released a 968-page, final risk-assessment report, which includes hundreds of pages of raw data to illustrate how the scientists reached their conclusion. That should calm everyone’s fears — right?
Of course not; this is just the beginning of a long road. While science moves faster today than ever, companies with the technology say it will be about five years before offspring from cloned animals would enter the food chain. By then, there will be even more understanding about the technology’s pros and cons.
The meat industry knows that at $10,000 to $20,000 per animal, clones are not going to be filling grocery stores; cloning will apply to the seedstock supply. However, that’s not likely to calm consumers’ concerns, and there are many.
Cloning feels too much like a science fiction movie for most people. It instills a fear of change, of the unknown, of the unimaginable. But mostly people tend to think if we clone animals, then humans are next.
Even the livestock industry has some issues with the idea of cloned animals. Meatingplace.com, which primarily serves the meat processing industry, conducted a survey following FDA’s Jan. 15, announcement and found a cool reception to the technology. Forty-three percent of respondents said they wouldn’t eat meat from animals with parental clones. That compares to an International Food Information Council survey conducted last year that showed 46 percent of consumers said they would eat meat from cloned animals if FDA gave its blessing.
Even USDA is taking a cautious approach. While USDA officials support FDA’s ruling, they are asking the cloning industry to continue its voluntary moratorium on the sale of milk and meat “for a sufficient period of time.”
It took little time for a variety of individuals, groups, companies and even countries to step forward with a comment. Some are more marketing oriented than others.
Smithfield Foods reiterated its position that the company isn’t planning to produce meat from cloned animals. “The science involved in cloning animals is relatively new,”
Tyson Foods’ officials also said cloned animals are not in the company’s plans. “Whatever measures we (Tyson) ultimately take will be guided by government regulations and our customers’ and consumers’ desire,” they noted.
Not exactly a news flash, but the Organic Trade Association said that “organic animal products will not come from cloned animals.”
The Center for Food Safety, which petitioned FDA to restrict the food sales from clones, says
Smart money would bet that the labeling debate will heat up in Congress. Whether labels are mandated or not, some companies and brands will voluntarily label their product as “not from cloned animals” or some other wording to gain a marketing edge.
Just ask dairymen how that’s worked with recombinant bovine sompatotrophin. The natural and supplemental versions aren’t distinguishable from each other and there’s no special labeling required, but you’ll find “rBST-free” milk options everywhere.
Okay, I admit it; the consumer side of me, says “there’s something that does feel strange about food products from cloned animals.” The science-based side of me says “that’s ridiculous” as long as the data prove otherwise.
As with any scientific advancement, it takes time to embrace the idea. Common production and processing practices that agriculture now take for granted were once revolutionary and questionable technologies. Things like hybrid seeds, artificial insemination, even pasteurizing milk at one time were crazy notions. Science has brought us tremendous advances that allow you and others in agriculture to feed more people with fewer inputs. While your job is to supply the goods, science has allowed you to continuously improve on that job.
Being skeptical of cloning is healthy and responsible, but so is embracing science. Time will provide refinement of the technology, greater understanding and, possibly — I’ll even say likely — acceptance.