Cloned Animals to be Tracked under Food Industry PlansDec 20, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
Cloned animals possibly ending up as food is causing anxiety for food manufacturers and consumers alike. Responding to concerns in the food industry, companies developing cloned livestock have come up with a system to track cloned animals as they move through farms and slaughterhouses. The system would make it easier for food companies or retailers to support claims that their products contain no meat or milk from cloned animals and comes as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is thought to be preparing to lift a voluntary moratorium that has kept milk and meat from cloned cows, pigs, and goats out of the food supply. The meat and dairy industries have expressed concerns that consumers might shun food from cloned animals, despite FDA assurances. Some public opinion surveys have found that many people are morally opposed to cloned animals, not just concerned about food safety, so some food companies and retailers have been interested in a way to show that their food is free of products from cloned animals.
The agency issued a draft report last year declaring that milk and meat from cloned animals and their conventionally bred offspring were safe to eat. Agency officials said they would make a final decision after analyzing public comments, possibly by the end of this year. Meanwhile, some lawmakers are trying to introduce legislation that would either force or urge the FDA to delay action until additional research is conducted; the Senate version of the farm bill contains an amendment to that effect introduced.
ViaGen and Trans Ova Genetics, two companies that account for most cloned livestock, are announcing the tracking system, saying they developed the plan over a 10-month period in consultation with the food industry. Each cloned animal would receive an electronic ear tag with an identification number which would be entered into a registry. Farmers and breeders who buy the cloned animal would be asked to put up a large cash deposit in addition to what they pay for the animal and would also commit to marketing the milk or meat only to those who request it. Farmers would be able receive their deposits by proving that the animal either died or was sold to a meat packer or processor that accepts clones, with a signed statement from the packer or processor.
Leah Wilkinson, director for policy and industry relations at ViaGen, said since cloned animals are expensive to produce, they would generally be used for breeding, not for meat or milk. “What we’re doing is allowing for those small number of animals to be segregated out from the food supply,” she said. But Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the advocacy group Center for Food Safety said the system gives consumers false assurances, saying that animals slip through since the system is voluntary and does not cover the progeny of cloned animals.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents major food companies, said, “a rigorous clone segregation program is needed if this breeding technology is introduced.” The group said the program “addresses this need from a supply chain management standpoint,” but it added that, “ultimately, consumer preferences will determine if meat, milk, and other byproducts from cloned animals will be used in food products.”