There was a glimmer of hope in mid-December that a Senate-proposed amendment to the Farm Bill would delay a U.S. Food and Drug Administration decision on the safety of cloned meat. Apparently this last-ditch effort was to no avail. According to The Wall Street Journal, an announcement declaring that meat and milk from cloned animals is safe to eat could come as early as this week.
The list of concerns regarding animal cloning from scientists, consumer activists, health groups and consumers is longer than a DNA strand and includes questions about the unpredictability of cloning, the higher risk of animal birth defects and unresolved issues about human allergens.
A decade ago, animal cloning had a name—Dolly the cloned sheep. Today it's Peggy Sue, a cloned dairy cow, owned by ViaGen, the largest biotech cloning company. The company insists that this technology will improve animal breeding techniques for Peggy Sue and its lineage of 250 cloned pigs, cows and horses in the ViaGen barnyard. When asked about the safety, ViaGen and the other dozen cloning companies are resolute that cloning is merely an advanced form of breeding much like artificial insemination and assisted reproduction.
Critics say this theory flies in the face of the latest genetic research. Just last month, Science magazine proclaimed that the scientific "breakthrough" of the year was the discovery of how genes interact with the environment. Researchers now see that there are hundreds of variances attributed to genes and the environment in which the genes develop.
This last nugget called the environment is the key, says Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., chief scientist for the Organic Center. "When you take an adult animal and clone it, you are bypassing the interaction between the genetic potential and their environment," he says. "Relying on cloned animals stops evolution in its tracks," he says. Thus, while cloning may lock in positive attributes, it may also lock in unknown negative attributes—one cannot predict how those genes will react with environmental stressors over the life of the animal, Benbrook says.
If the Wall Street Journal's prediction comes to fruition this week, don't expect to see food from the offspring of cloned animals for another three to five years. It is not known if a seven-year voluntary ban on the sale of foods from such animals will remain. Nor is it clear if the FDA will approve the labeling of cloned meat and dairy products.
If nothing else, given the lack of consumer trust in animal cloning, Benbrook believes that science will simply push more consumers toward organically raised meats and dairy.