Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tasty Clones

Speaking of unnecessary stimulus, cloning in the food supply was brought back to the fore this week, as the F.D.A. made a pronouncement on the safety of meat and milk from cloned animals. From Wednesday's New York Times:

After years of debate, the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday declared that food from cloned animals and their progeny is safe to eat, clearing the way for milk and meat derived from genetic copies of prized dairy cows, steers and hogs to be sold at the grocery store.
There was a predictable response from consumer watchdogs:

Consumer groups immediately lambasted the F.D.A.’s report, saying that the science remains inadequate and that many consumers oppose cloning for religious or ethical reasons. Some members of Congress had sought to delay a decision until further studies were completed.

“It flies in the face of Congress’s wishes. It flies in the face of consumer wishes,” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, the advocacy group that publishes Consumer Reports.
I don't share the same apprehensions about safety in genetic cloning as I do in genetic modification or doping. With cloning, it seems that the breeders obtain an animal that has desirable characteristics and then simply make more copies of it without modifying it. The principal advantage of cloning is summed up by this expert, who must have fun giving out his business card:
“When you buy a box of Cheerios in New York and one in Champaign, Illinois, you know they are going to be the same,” said Jon Fisher, president and owner of Prairie State Semen in Illinois. “By shortening the genetic pool using clones, you can do a similar thing.”

“It could improve the quality of meat in the supermarket,” Mr. Fisher added. “It depends if customers allow it.”
It will likely do that in areas where the quality of meat is poor. But I'm not in one of those areas, and so if I should decide that I don't want to eat meat or drink milk from cloned animals, I should have that option, too. From the article again:
The F.D.A.’s approval extends to cloned cows, pigs and goats but not other farm animals like sheep; the agency cited insufficient data on cloned sheep. The F.D.A. said meat and milk from cloned animals and their offspring would not be labeled because it was the same as conventional food and did not pose a safety risk.

However, Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, has introduced legislation to require labels on cloned products, and consumer groups suggested that labeling would be a battleground in the near future.

As with other food production processes, I am in favor of allowing producers who do not use a particular technology to label their products as such, regardless of whether the F.D.A. requires those who do use the technology to label their products as such.


eightnine2718281828mu5 said...

Cloning also opens up the food chain to increased risk of catastrophic disease; if a virus/bacteria is especially virulent for a particular cloned animal, it could effectively take out whole farms at once; maybe even whole regions.

Andrew Samwick said...

I agree, which is another reason why I don't want to patronize the cloning producers if I can avoid it. See this subsequent post at Marginal Revolution on bananas.