Student Writers: Catherine P, Levi T, and Shelby T
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The controversy over the labeling of cloned meat has recently become an issue throughout the world. Ever since cloned meat was introduced into the market as an acceptable food source the argument over both the safety and the labeling of cloned meat has flourished. The Food and Drug Administration FDA has played an important role in the controversy. Although political figures have become involved in order to represent those who favor the labeling of cloned foods, the FDA has not changed their minds on the matter.
Animal cloning is reproductive cloning using a process called the somatic cell nuclear transfer method or SCNT. This includes the transfer of a nucleus from a donor cell to an egg cell that has had the nucleus removed and then inserting the donor nucleus. From here various steps are performed to activate the newly constructed embryo to grow and divide as it would under normal conditions. This procedure does not create a genetically perfect specimen since the entire DNA is not transferred from the donor cell and cells from the egg that is implanted will actually bring along their own DNA (A Timeline). Cloning has occurred over the years, with the first cloned tadpole in 1952. The first mammal to be successfully cloned from adult DNA was a sheep in Scotland in 1996 named Dolly Since then several other animals including a horse and a dog have been cloned in other countries.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's FDA stance in 2001 was to not allow cloned meat into the food supply. In 2006 the FDA stated that although they did not find any dangers to eating cloned meat, they asked manufacturers to not introduce it to markets until a public forum could be conducted. It was suggested that cloning would at this point, be a breeding option rather than a food for market option.
The FDA stated in 2008 that the food from cloned cattle, swine and goats was safe and it would not require labeling. The meat industry and biotech companies stand against labeling citing that it will cause undo concern in consumers. The Center for Veterinary Medicine requested that the National Academy of Science/National Research Council investigate the safety of cloned animal research through scientific peer review. This was funded by the CVM and NAS. Topics of interest included food safety (Animal Cloning). The PEW Charitable Trust, a nonprofit charitable organization, established the PEW Initiative on Food and Biotechnology in order to be a public information source on the subject of cloned foods and their safety. Companies involved in cloning were also asked to participate as well as experts from public and private sector groups.
The Center for Food Safety CFS a non profit public interest group published a report finding fault with the FDA’s position on assuring the safety of cloned food. They also argued against the decision to not label foods as genetically formed for food. Another prominent consumer advocate group, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is also against cloned foods being brought to market without labeling. They supported a bill submitted to legislation requiring labeling in 2007. Legislation has been introduced since 2007 that calls for labeling cloned meat products available for market however no bill to date has been passed.
The argument against labeling includes the cost and the tracking of the cloned animals as well as transporting food products while separating the cloned and regular animals. The argument for labeling is to track cloned meat for problems that may arise as well as simply giving the consumer a choice. It may be we have to eat only organic meat in order to be sure we are not eating cloned meat products. The Organic Consumers Association wants labels on cloned food products; they will not accept any cloned products into their industry.
Video of the FDA's approval of cloned products:
In 2008 the FDA released a 678-page draft risk assessment stating that meat and milk from clones of cattle, swine, goats, and the offspring of clones from any species traditionally consumed as food, are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals. Many people and large organizations such as the Center for Food Safety are quite skeptical about the FDA’s conclusion. In recent years the FDA has become unfavorable amongst food safety advocates due to the fact that executives of major food corporations have been appointed to high-ranking positions within the FDA. Essentially the government is being dominated by the very industries that they are meant to be regulating. This distrust has led several others to look into the study and conduct their own research upon deeming the FDA’s work “a weak risk assessment with people with a vested interest from the industry side participating”. Although nearly all the independent studies were in agreement with the FDA’s study and concluded that both meat and milk were not chemically different from their natural counterparts, there’s always an unknown aspect to the results of science. And for the same reason pharmaceutical drugs get recalled, unforeseen problems can result in the future.
To date there have been no negative health implications towards the consumption of cloned meat or milk and the latter may already be on the market. However, in terms of the health of the actual animal, there are several poor trends. According to the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE), fewer than 5% of cloned fetuses live long enough to be born; roughly 20% of new born clones don’t survive the first 24 hours, and an additional 15% die before weaning. In the case of cows and sheep, should the cloned calf develop, it has a higher chance of developing “large offspring syndrome” which is a potentially fatal condition where problems such as: dysfunctional immune systems, malformed limbs, and malformed organs arise. With such a high rate of birth defects, who knows what problems may arise in humans post consumption.
As of now cloning is used mainly as an insurance policy for farmers. Cloning allows them to preserve the genes of their best cows. Cloning animals merely to send them off to the slaughter is incredibly unprofitable. One cloned cow can cost between $10,000 and $20,000 to produce, while a normal natural cow can be bought for as little as $50. For this reason the only meat related to cloned animals that would be sent off to the stores would be that of their natural born offspring. However, due to the negative feelings many were having towards the idea of consuming cloned meat and milk, a voluntary moratorium was introduced by the USDA and FDA urging farmers to keep cloned products of the market temporarily so as to not damage trade values. Recently that ban was lifted in respect to the offspring of cloned animals. Executives from the nation’s major cow cloning companies admitted that they have not been able to keep track of how many offspring of clones have entered the food supply, and various farmers have disclosed that they have openly sold semen from prize-winning clones to meat producers in the past few years. The main goal behind using the offspring of clones over traditional cattle is to eventually achieve better tasting milk and meat with greater nutrition. By creating such products they hope to make the farm industry even more profitable.
Since January 15, 2008, the Food and Drug Administration deemed cloned meats and other food products as safe for consumer use. The controversy now is not whether or not cloned foods should be produced but, whether or not they should be labeled accordingly. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also supports the conclusions regarding the safety of food from cattle, swine and goat clones, but is encouraging the cloning industry to continue the voluntary moratorium on putting these foods into the food supply (Osborne). No part of the FDA’s documents on the safety of cloned meats states that labeling must occur in order to provide buyers with the knowledge that they may or may not be purchasing cloned foods. Because cloned foods do not raise a safety concern nor is there a material different in the composition of food the FDA does not see any ground on which to support the labeling of cloned foods. (Osborne).
Photo credit: blogs.villagevoice.com
There has been a significant amount of discussion on the labeling of cloned foods in the U.S. market. Even though the FDA does not demand labeling be practiced, many state legislations have taken it upon themselves to push the issue for the sake of their consumers. Representative Jim Glenn of Kentucky introduced a house bill that stated “No person shall sell, offer or expose for sale, have in his possession for sale, or give away, for human consumption, any fresh or frozen meat, meat preparation, meat by-product, dairy food or dairy food product, or poultry or poultry product derived from a cloned animal or its offspring unless the product is clearly and conspicuously labeled as such”(Gogoi). Kentucky is not alone in its desire to label cloned foods. According to a nationwide poll conducted by the Consumers Union, an overwhelming 89% of Americans want cloned food to be labeled. The FDA’s concern is that by labeling cloned foods there is an insinuation that there is something wrong with the food or that it is bad for consumers. (Gogoi).
Throughout the rest of the world, the debate over the safety of cloned foods and the practice of labeling is just as present. In Europe the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) drafted a similar statement to the FDA stating that cloned food products are safe and similarly the EFSA statement did not favor special labeling. Along with both the U.S. and Europe, many other nations continue to move forward in their production and use of cloned food products. According to Barbara Glenn, managing director of animal biotechnology at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, all over the world in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, China, and Japan are moving with significant strides toward the acceptance of cloned animals into food production (Fox 250). As it seems though, the rest of the globe is awaiting U.S. decisions and practices as a test market to see how well the use of cloned foods and the debate on labeling play out for America. (Fox 250).
While the future status of the labeling of cloned foods in uncertain in the U.S and throughout the world, what can be determined is that those who support labeling will continue to do so until the government provides suitable regulation of clone foods or decides to begin labeling. "I'm not saying that cloned food is dangerous, but if the American public doesn't want to consume it on moral or religious grounds, they should have the choice," says California Senator Carole Migden (D), who has reintroduced a bill that required labels on cloned food products (Gogoi).
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