Between Christmas and New Year's Eve, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its tentative approval of meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs, goats and all of these animals' offspring, as safe foods to eat. The draft risk assessment, released Dec. 28, was based on hundreds of peer-reviewed publications and other studies on health and food composition of clones and their offspring, according to Stephen F. Sundlof, DVM, Ph.D., director of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. But the FDA's statement met almost immediate criticism from food safety organizations and sectors of the food industry, as well as religious and animal-rights groups.
Since the FDA first addressed cloned animals as food in 2003, it has asked producers of clones and livestock breeders to voluntarily refrain from introducing food products from cloned animals into the marketplace. Now the FDA is seeking public comment until April 2.Critics of the proposed policy cite concerns ranging from animal rights and narrowing of the gene pool, to safety and the FDA's motivations.
George Siemon, chief executive officer of organic farmers' cooperative Organic Valley, criticized the FDA for looking out for big business instead of consumers. "Cloning is not just about producing food for consumers. It's about greed and patents," Siemon said in a statement. "The real question with cloning is who is going to benefit—consumers? Farmers? Animals?"
"Instead of doing its job, the Bush FDA has ignored the science and fast-tracked this decision for the benefit of a few cloning companies," said Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety, in a statement. "This is a lose-lose situation for consumers and the dairy industry." The CFS and a coalition of consumer, environmental and animal welfare organizations had already filed a legal petition in October seeking a moratorium on foods from cloned animals, establishment of mandatory rules for pre-market food safety and environmental review of cloned foods. They also requested formation of a Department of Health and Human Services federal review committee to advise the FDA on ethical issues raised by animal cloning.
Mel Coleman Jr., chairman of Golden, Colo.-based Coleman Natural Foods, said he could see how a market for high-quality beef at low prices fuels arguments for cloning to produce more breeding animals with desirable traits, but Coleman said he didn't think food from clones would be widely accepted, at least among his natural-meat customers. "I've talked with thousands of customers, and they don't want it," he said. "I have a strong opinion that when you do things right, you can find consumers that are willing to pay the price."
As far as its effects on the organic- and natural-meat sector, animal cloning is not allowed for organic production under the National Organic Program for several reasons, the most basic being that cloned animals are genetically modified, which falls under NOP-excluded methods, according to Jim Riddle, former chairman of the National Organic Standards Board.
Riddle said that NOP regulations require organic livestock producers to establish and maintain preventive livestock health care practices and accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals, and the FDA admits that some animals in the cloning process are at an increased risk for health problems relative to conventional animals.
Producers of noncloned food will likely have to follow the lead of non-GM food companies regarding labeling. Because the FDA does not require labeling for GM foods, producers of non-GM foods have had to do their own labeling to distinguish their products from masses of genetically modified foods on the market. Siemon said though Organic Valley tries to stick with positive marketing on its labels, the new policy would force it to label products "not from cloned animals."
Both Siemon and Coleman, however, are optimistic that organic and naturals customers value clone-free foods and understand that though they might cost a little more, they're worth the price in the long run.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 2/p. 1, 14