Cloned food coming to a store near you

Amy Poppinga

Amy Poppinga

On Jan. 15, the Food and Drug Administration ruled that milk and meat from cloned cattle, swine and goats are safe to eat and can be sold.

The FDA said these products “? are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals,” but the agency has yet to determine the safety of food products from clones of other animal species, such as sheep.

According to the FDA, an animal clone is genetically the same as its donor, much like identical twins, but born at different times. Cloning is not the same as genetic engineering since cloning does not alter DNA or change the gene sequence.

Currently, U.S. producers have agreed to not sell milk or meat from clones, and the FDA encourages producers to continue the voluntary moratorium until the U.S. Department of Agriculture can create a plan for a smooth transition of cloned products into the marketplace.

When the cloned products do hit the marketplace, the FDA will not require special labeling. Producers can request labeling for their food products, such as this product is clone-free, and the FDA will review these requests case-by-case.

Even though the FDA’s decision to allow the sale of milk and meat from clones comes after many years of study and analysis, not everyone believes that cloned food products pose no additional risk to consumers and that labels are not necessary.

The Center for Food Safety petitioned the FDA in 2006 to prevent cloned products from ending up on consumer’s tables. The CFS claimed that “cloned animals are often unhealthy and can have hidden health defects that may lead to food safety risks.”

In its petition, the CFS also said that many Americans may not want to eat cloned products due to religious convictions or ethical concerns related to cloning. The CFS feels these issues must be addressed in the regulatory process.

On the other hand, some people-including some students and professors at SDSU-are supportive of the FDA’s decision.

Amanda Weaver, an animal science professor who specializes in meat science, believes that the FDA has enough evidence to determine that cloned food is indeed safe. “I feel there is a huge amount of research that indicates these products are safe,” she said. “From a meat science standpoint, there is no structural or physiological differences in the muscles of cloned animals, and therefore, no differences in the meat products.”

Still, Weaver said that consumers do not need to worry about a sudden influx of meat from cloned animals into the marketplace. “Consumers need to realize that animals are not being cloned to put in a feedlot and be sent to slaughter,” she said. Instead, cloned animals are used for breeding, but at the end of their breeding years, cloned animals could be used for food.

Tyler Urban, a sophomore animal science major, agrees on the safety of milk and meat from cloned animals. “Cloned beef is just as safe as regular beef,” he said. “You wouldn’t taste the difference between cloned beef and regular beef, and you would never know the difference if you drank milk from a normal or a cloned cow.”

Urban also said that cloning may actually lower health risks to consumers because with cloning, scientists and producers may be able to breed out certain diseases.

In the long run, cloning could create other positive effects as well. Weaver said that animals are being cloned “to copy elite breeding animals, animals with superior meat quality and animals with exceptional milk production.” If enough of these animals are cloned, production could become more efficient, resulting in lower food prices.

In Urban’s opinion, the affects of cloning on the South Dakota market are yet to be determined. He said that cloning could be harmful to smaller farming operations, which cannot afford the technology, but then again, through producing superior animals and reducing production costs, cloning may help small farmers.