Cloned Food Is Frankenstein Food
With Little Evidence of Safety for Cloned Foods, Don't Trust FDA's Decision that They Don't Need Labels
Rebecca Spector
The Center for Food Safety

reprinted from Daily Health News, May 1, 2008
URL: web link

I was shocked when I read, in January of this year, that an FDA report says that food products from cloned cows, goats and pigs are as safe as those from traditionally bred animals, basically paving the way for their milk and meat to enter our food supply. Not only did the FDA say products from cloned animals or their offspring are as safe as others, they also stated that, because the products are "virtually" the same, cloned-animal products wouldn't require special labels to identify them as such. Weird, right? It's exactly how I felt. But I thought perhaps I was missing something so I decided to learn more about the cloning process. It didn't make me feel reassured at all. Here's what I found out...

CLONING BASICS

The cloning process sounds straightforward: You remove the nucleus from an egg cell, replace it with a nucleus with DNA from the animal to be cloned, give this new cell a tiny electric shock to kick-start it into dividing, and then implant it into a surrogate mother who will carry the clone embryo. The end result is supposed to be a genetic replica of the original DNA donor animal -- beneficial for farmers or ranchers who want to reproduce a particularly high-yield milk cow or beef steer. The process seems like an easy way to ensure product quality, right?

Not even close. While easy to describe, cloning is hard to do successfully. At present, 90% or more of cloning attempts fail. And then at least 50% of those that do survive suffer from what's called "large-offspring syndrome," which is exactly what it sounds like -- the babies are unusually large, and may also have bigger-than-normal organs. These newborns can suffer from a host of ailments, from enlarged tongues and brain abnormalities to immune diseases and diabetes. Though some cloned animals can lead "normal" lives, the gestation and birth process is extremely stressful (occasionally even fatal) for the mother as well as the clone. "This isn't just a food safety issue," says Rebecca Spector, west coast director of The Center for Food Safety. "It's an animal welfare issue."

RISKS WE DON'T EVEN KNOW ABOUT...

However, the biggest concern, by far, lies in what we don't know about the safety of foods from cloned animals -- mostly because we don't know what we don't know.

Michael Hansen, PhD, a senior scientist with Consumers Union (consumersunion.org), has publicly voiced concern that it's possible that food from cloned offspring will have safety problems that haven't yet been considered. With the implantation of a cell nucleus into another cell, for example, it is conceivable that cells in clones contain mitochondria from two different animals -- a condition known as heteroplasmy. This doesn't occur in traditionally bred animals. Also, given that cloning costs $15,000 or so per animal, it's actually the offspring of the clones that are likely to make it to market as meat. Dr. Hansen has noted that little study has been done on these next generation clones. Who knows whether they are safe for human consumption?

There are definitely reasons to be concerned about cloned foods for the simple fact that they haven't been studied enough to be deemed safe. The long-term implications are unknown. And, really, who's asking for clones? Not consumers -- we're not facing a meat or milk shortage. A Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology survey found that 64% of people are uncomfortable with animal cloning. Not likely many ranchers either -- why would they be eager to pay large sums for genetically questionable animals? I suspect that biotech firms are pushing to advance this technology -- which is not who I want in control of my food.

WE NEED LABELS, AT LEAST

So, the question becomes: What do we do about it? First off, let's push for labeling. Though the FDA's report has essentially stated that it's unnecessary, at least nine states have introduced bills that would require some sort of labeling for foods from clones. I urge everyone who reads Daily Health News to contact their state representatives about this issue -- ask what they're doing about the labeling of cloned food. E-mail this story to make them aware of the potential problems. Granted, it's a long shot -- the labeling issue seems to be on the back burner in even the states looking at the issue -- but it's a start.

Beyond that, one good thing to know is that foods labeled as "organic" aren't allowed to contain any products from cloned animals. Small, local farmers are unlikely to use clones -- by supporting them, you're eating healthier while supporting a local business.