Cloning scientists have acknowledged that genetic abnormalities are common in clones, yet FDA failed to address how food safety and animal welfare concerns could be managed if cloning is widely adopted by the livestock industry. Some of the health and safety problems in animal cloning include:
Surrogate mothers are treated with high doses of hormones; clones are often born with severely compromised immune systems and frequently receive massive doses of antibiotics. This opens an avenue for large amounts of veterinary pharmaceuticals to enter the human food supply;
Imbalances in clones’ hormone, protein, and/or fat levels could compromise the quality and safety of meat and milk;
The National Academy of Sciences warned that commercialization of cloned livestock for food production could increase the incidence of food-borne illnesses, such as E. coli infections;
Cloning commonly results in high failure rates and defects such as intestinal blockages; diabetes; shortened tendons; deformed feet; weakened immune systems; dysfunctional hearts, brains, livers, and kidneys; respiratory distress; and circulatory problems.
“There is widespread concern among Americans, and scientific concern that cloned food may not be safe and that cloning will increase animal cruelty,” said Mendelson. “We intend to pursue our legal action to compel FDA to address the many unanswered questions around cloned food.”
Nevertheless,the government declared Thursday that food from cloned animals is safe to eat. After more than five years of study, the Food and Drug Administration concluded that cloned livestock is “virtually indistinguishable” from conventional livestock.
The FDA?s action also follows growing opposition to the use of clones and their progeny for food products on Capitol Hill. In November, Senator Barbara Mikulski sent a letter to the FDA requesting a complete overview of how the agency came to its decision of using clones in food. In early December, a bi-partisan group of seven senators led by Senator Patrick Leahy asked FDA to reconsider its assessment of cloned animals. The International Dairy Foods Association, representing major dairies and food makers including Kraft, Nestle and others, also has opposed allowing products from cloned animals into the food supply at this time.
FDA believes “that meat and milk from cattle, swine and goat clones is as safe to eat as the food we eat every day,” said Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine.
Officials said they don’t think special labels are needed, although a decision on labeling is pending.
Because scientists concluded there is no difference between food from clones and food from other animals, “it would be unlikely that FDA would require labeling in those cases,” Sundlof said.
Final approval is still months away; the agency will accept comments from the public for the next three months.
Critics of cloning say the verdict is still out on the safety of food from cloned animals.
“Consumers are going to be having a product that has potential safety issues and has a whole load of ethical issues tied to it, without any labeling,” said Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety.
Carol Tucker Foreman, director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America, said the FDA is ignoring research that shows cloning results in more deaths and deformed animals than other reproductive technologies.
The consumer federation will ask food companies and supermarkets to refuse to sell food from clones, she said.
“Meat and milk from cloned animals have no benefit for consumers, and consumers don’t want them in their foods,” Foreman said.
However, FDA scientists said that by the time clones reached 6 to 18 months of age, they are virtually indistinguishable from conventionally bred animals.
Labels should only be used if the health characteristics of a food are significantly altered by how it is produced, said Barb Glenn of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
“The bottom line is, we don’t want to misinform consumers with some sort of implied message of difference,” Glenn said. “There is no difference. These foods are as safe as foods from animals that are raised conventionally.”
Those in favor of the technology say it would be used primarily for breeding and not for steak or pork tenderloin.
Cloning lets farmers and ranchers make copies of exceptional animals, such as pigs that fatten rapidly or cows that are superior milk producers.
“It’s not a genetically engineered animal; no genes have been changed or moved or deleted,” Glenn said. “It’s simply a genetic twin that we can then use for future matings to improve the overall health and well-being of the herd.”
Thus, consumers would mostly get food from their offspring and not the clones themselves, Glenn said.
Still, some clones would eventually end up in the food supply. As with conventional livestock, a cloned bull or cow that outlived its usefulness would probably wind up at a hamburger plant, and a cloned dairy cow would be milked during her breeding years.
That’s unlikely to happen soon, because FDA officials have asked farmers and cloning companies since 2001 to voluntarily keep clones and their offspring out of the food supply. The informal ban would remain in place for several months while FDA accepts comments from the public.
Approval of cloned livestock has taken five years because of pressure from big food companies nervous that consumers might reject milk and meat from cloned animals.
To produce a clone, the nucleus of a donor egg is removed and replaced with the DNA of a cow, pig or other animal. A tiny electric shock coaxes the egg to grow into a copy of the original animal. Cloning companies say it’s just another reproductive technology, such as artificial insemination, yet there can be differences between the two because of chance and environmental influences.
Some surveys have shown people to be uncomfortable with food from cloned animals; 64 percent said they were uncomfortable with such food in a September poll by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, a nonpartisan research group