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Label Cloned Foods, Consumers Union Tells Congress

Jan 22, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The recent declaration that cloned food is safe to eat by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has prompted  the Consumers Union to ask Congress to mandate that products from cloned animals be tracked and labeled.  

“The FDA’s own data show that a large proportion of cloned animals do not make it to their first birthday.  Many fail to survive gestation and others have birth defects such as squashed faces, deformed limbs, and immune deficiencies.  Consumers have a right to choose whether they eat milk and meat from clones,” said Michael Hansen, PHD, Senior Scientist with the Consumers Union.  “It should be mandatory for clones and their offspring to be tracked and their products labeled in the supermarket,” Hansen said. “Having our food come from healthy animals helps the food to be safe,” Hansen said.  “There is simply too little data for consumers to be completely confident that eating cloned food is safe.”

In cloning, 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; however, cloning produces a high proportion of deformed animals unable to survive.  

Although the industry indicates that it has created only about 600 clones, more are expected now that FDA has deemed them safe for the food chain.  It is believed that cows, for instance, that are initially used for breeding are likely to be introduced into the food supply at some point.  Cows that have completed their useful life either as milk producers or breeders are typically slaughtered for meat. “I don’t think they will be buried in the back yard,” says Hansen.

A Consumers Union national poll conducted in mid-2007 found 89 percent of consumers want cloned food to be labeleod and 69 percent were concerned about eating products from clones.  Legislation requiring labeling of cloned products was introduced into Congress.  Also, legislation introduced in California, which passed the legislature but was vetoed by the Governor, will be re-introduced this session.

A National Academy of Sciences study raised concerns that if clones are sickly they might be more likely to carry bacteria that could infect people such as salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7, the most virulent of E. coli strains.  The FDA risk assessment acknowledged it had no data on this.  Consumers Union supports labeling of both clones and their first- and second-generation offspring.

It took the FDA seven years to decide it could not find a reason to prohibit the use of cloned animals for food and the government is neither advocating nor requiring special labeling for products from clones.  It is also unclear when the voluntary moratorium on the use of clones will be lifted, but over 30,000 consumers and industry trade organizations filed comments with the FDA.  Lawmakers also expressed concerns; Congress passed a measure urging the FDA to conduct additional studies before making its decision.  

Connie Tipton, President and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, said that by approving a "niche technology" too soon, the FDA risks unintended negative economic, trade, and public health impacts.

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