Do you ever wish we could order hamburgers like we do coffee drinks? "I'll have an irradiated, hormone-laden, cloned burger from a cow that's been fed genetically modified corn, please."
The FDA yesterday issued a statement saying that eating meat or drinking milk from cloned pigs, goats, and cows is considered to be as safe as food from conventionally-bred animals that are now in our food system. This statement is a "draft risk assessment" and the FDA is allowing public comment until April 2, 2007.
FDA officials have also stated that, if cloned animals are allowed into the food system, they will not be labeled as such because they technically don't see a risk in eating these animals. So while over half of Americans surveyed have stated that they would be unlikely to buy meat or milk from animal clones even if the FDA found such products to be safe, it is likely that no one eating conventionally raised meat will have a choice.
This sentiment runs parallel to opinions of genetically modified foods in that most Americans do not approve of genetically modified foods in our food system, and 94% are in favor of labelling genetically modified foods. Despite these statistics, a majority of us eat genetically-modified foods on a regular basis, since GM foods have been allowed by the FDA and are not required to be labelled.
Cloning is an expensive procedure, and for the time being most in the industry foresee cloning to be used for creating bulls for breeding rather than meat we would eat. Those bulls would then be used to create offspring, making the food that we eat one generation away from a cloned animal.
Why is cloning of cows, goats, and pigs for meat and milk such a bad idea?
It encourages a monoculture. Whenever issues like this come up, I first turn to Michael Pollan to see his point-of-view. This morning, the San Francisco Chronicle had a statement from Pollan that said that cloning animals gets us one step closer to a monoculture in the animal world. "And wherever you have a monoculture, it's exquisitely vulnerable to all kinds of shocks, in this case disease. To keep a paddock full of genetically identical animals healthy would take more drugs. This seems like a big thing for the pharmaceutical industry more than anyone."
It's taking a risk with one of our most basic foods: milk. Milk is the first food that our children eat. It's considered to be a nutritious way for us to get calcium and nutrients. Anyone else think that maybe we should practice cloning on a food that's not at the root of American diets?
The benefits may not outweigh the risks of adding a new technology to our food system. I have only read vague generalizations about the possible benefits of cloning. The beef industry likes the idea of cloning because it "removes the guesswork from breeding" and purportedly could "produce a desirable end product for consumers." The cynical side of me wonders what the benefits really are, and why this is being pushed for by the meat industry. Until further benefits are proven, I would be against adding cloning technology to the conventional meat and milk supply.
If the FDA does end up approving cloning, then what's our alternative? Do we just throw in the towel and become vegetarians? Do we give up and know that we will have to eat meat from cloned animals? Everyone's decision on this is going to be different. However, for now, I believe that my choice will be to continue a bit further down the road I've been headed for a while: only to buy meat from farmers who I can ask about their breeding techniques, or to only shop for meat at supermarkets and butcher shops with a commitment to not buying meat from cloned animals. No irradiated, hormone-laden, cloned burger from a cow that's been fed genetically modified corn for me!
Sources, Essays, and Studies:
What's Next: Anna Lappe, World Changing (via Ethicurean)
The issues: Cloning, Sustainable Table
With FDA's approval, cloning could benefit both producers and consumers, The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, November-December 05.
Letter from Senator Patrick Leahy, et al to Dept of Health and Human Services
FDA Declares Cloned Food to be Safe, NPR, December 28 06.
Food Biotechnology: A Study of US Consumer Attitudinal Trends, International Food Information Council, 2006.
Public Perceptions of Genetically Modified Foods, Food Policy Institute, October 2003.
FDA Press Release and full report, December 2006.
Center for Food Safety statement
FDA Tentatively Declares Food From Cloned Animals to Be Safe, NY Times, December 29 06.
FDA calls meat, milk from clones safe for eating, SF Chronicle, December 29 06.