In the News
March 30, 2008
IN THE NEWS
In January, the FDA announced that food from healthy clones of cattle, swine and goat is as safe to eat as food from non-cloned animals. This finding, derived from years of detailed study, came as no surprise to researchers who have been successfully cloning livestock since 1996. But even with some government reassurance, many consumers are still concerned about the safety of food that comes from cloned animals.
While genetic engineering involves the altering, adding or deletion of DNA, cloning does not change the genetic makeup of the animal. An animal clone is an exact genetic copy of another animal (called the donor), and is intended to be used as an elite breeding animal to help introduce desirable traits into herds more rapidly than conventional breeding methods. Cloning is not the stuff of science fiction novels, with animals popping out of test tubes fully formed. Cloned animals are born just like other animals.
Clones are similar to identical twins, but born at different times. As in other assisted reproductive technologies, like artificial insemination, embryo transfer and in vitrofertilization (all methods that have been used in livestock since the 1950s), a male and female parent contributes half of his or her genes to an offspring. When a farmer determines that this offspring contains the desired traits for passing on to the herd, that offspring’s genetic material is added to an immature egg. The resulting embryo is then implanted in the uterus of a surrogate, and later delivered as a new baby.
Although consumers worry that animals are being cloned for the sole purpose of becoming part of our food supply, the reality is that animals are mainly cloned for the purpose of breeding stock. These animals are then used in conventional breeding, and the resulting offspring become food producing animals. The offspring of a clone is not a clone, and is the same as any other animal produced through sexual reproduction.
Some benefits of cloning include making animals disease resistant, more suitable to the climate in which they are raised, more fertile and more tailored to suit the tastes of different markets. Just as farmers look for qualities like leanness, tenderness, color and cut when breeding animals through traditional, slower methods, cloning allows farmers to reproduce the most productive, healthiest, best tasting animals quickly, efficiently and reliably.
There are no animal products derived from cloned dairy and beef cattle available at supermarkets at the moment, as the FDA continues to recommend that these products stay out of the food supply while more research is conducted. After the FDA lifts the existing voluntary moratorium on selling these products, the USDA will work with industry professionals to plan an orderly market transition. According to the IFIC, it could take as long as three to five years (post lifting of the voluntary moratorium) for products from cloned animals to be available at market.
Once at market, the FDA will not require any additional labeling to indicate that a product comes from a cloned animal. Labeling will only be required when the nutritional content of an item is changed, or if a potential allergen is added. The FDA believes that clone labels could create confusion along consumers, as they would imply that there were nutritional or safety differences between products from clones and products from animals breed conventionally.
Cloning is not new. Many consumers fail to realize that we have actually been eating cloned plants for decades. Bananas, potatoes, apples, grapes, pears and peaches can all come from clones. With a majority of consumers – 53% according to a recent IFIC study – stating that they are unclear as to what animal cloning actually involves, it has become increasingly important to educate shoppers in this area.
Currently, animals are being cloned for agricultural purposes in countries across the globe, including Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, South Korea and the United Kingdom. New Zealand, for their part, recently issued position papers declaring products from cloned animals to be as safe as their non-cloned counterparts. The European Food Safety Authority announced its support of the FDA Risk Assessment study on January 11, 2008.