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FDA Cloned Food Decision Sparks Calls for Labeling, Confusion

Jan 18, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

If a food comes from a cloned animal, should consumers know it?  Recent consumer surveys reveal people are less wary of animal biotechnology, including cloning, despite complaints from food producers concerned about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announcement that meat and milk from cloned animals are as safe as those from conventionally bred animals.  The government has requested that cloning companies continue abiding by a sales moratorium until further notice, but once cloned food are on shelves, they won't need to be labeled as such.  The National Farmers Union in Washington, D.C., is calling for product labeling in advance of when products from clones reach supermarkets.  Tom Buis, president of the group—which supports the Cloned Food Labeling Act—feels consumers should advised when foods are derived from clones.  The measure was authored by Senator Barbara who said, "In the face of ever-increasing food safety concerns, it is troubling to see the FDA approval of products from cloned animals.  There is no data to suggest any consumer demand for such products."  Currently, there are less than 1,000 cloned animals nationwide.

Cloning is the science of asexually producing a group of cells that are genetically identical and from a single ancestor.  Genes from an animal with desirable characteristics are inserted into an unfertilized egg that can grow into an exact duplicate of the parent.  The procedure is meant to produce meatier, disease-resistant animals that produce meats that are leaner and tastier and milk that is lower in fat and higher in minerals.  Cloning has also produced a high proportion of deformed animals unable to survive.  Scientists say these rates are likely to decline as technology improves.  Advocates argue that humans would not suffer because unhealthy clones would be excluded from the food chain, as is the case with conventionally bred animals.  

Most existing clones are cattle replicated by ViaGen Inc., in Austin, Texas.  Trans Ova Genetics, an Iowa-based company and several major universities also have clones.  Danielle Schor, senior vice president for food safety at the International Food Information Council, said a series of surveys conducted by her organization over the past decade indicate the public does not fear genetically enhanced animals.  "We gave them a definition of cloning before we asked the questions," Schor said. The council defines cloning "as a form of biotechnology that retains desirable traits by producing an animal that is an identical twin."  According to the council, 69 percent of Americans have a high level of confidence in the nation's food supply and 46 percent are somewhat or very likely to products from clones, assuming they are deemed safe.  Consumers were more favorable toward products derived from offspring than foods derived directly from clones.  "We have to respect that some people won't be favorable [to cloning]," Schor said. 

"But it is the FDA's job to make a science-based decision, and that's what it did.” Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in Washington said, “The FDA has not satisfactorily answered the safety question" adding,  "While the safety of any food cannot be proven with absolute certainty, consumers should have confidence that meat and milk from cloned animals and their offspring will be safe."


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