AR-News: What's the beef?
wolfcrest at hotmail.com
Thu Jan 22 19:52:28 EST 2004
What's the beef?
The FDA weighs whether to allow meat and milk from cloned animals to enter
the food supply. Opponents fear the impact.
By Tim King | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
LONG PRAIRIE, MINN. In the beginning, there was Dolly. Since then, one by
one, beef and dairy cattle, pigs, and goats have joined the Scottish sheep
in a 21st century ark of cloned farm animals.
But while cloned animals have become common in the lab, they have yet to
make it to the dinner table. That could change if the Food and Drug
Administration overturns a ban on the consumption of cloned livestock. In a
few years, their meat or milk could become a regular staple on America's
The results could be significant: higher-quality meat and dairy products,
foods engineered to be more nutritious, and possibly lower grocery prices,
thanks to the arrival of more productive animals. The infant farm cloning
industry is chomping at the bit to commercialize its research.
But consumer and animal advocates worry about the impact that cloning could
have on human health, not to mention the animals themselves. There is no
evidence "that food from cloned animals is safe," said Carol Tucker Foreman
of the Consumer Federation of America in a statement. "The FDA has only
limited data on the composition of food from cloned animals, and there have
been no feeding studies to see the impact of long-term consumption. All of
the data come from groups who support animal cloning."
So far, the signs for the industry look positive. Last October, the FDA said
that food products from cloned livestock were essentially the same as those
from conventional animals. It is working on a risk-assessment plan that, for
now, indicates there is little risk to humans who eat cloned livestock. The
release of the final assessment has yet to be scheduled.
Only a few hundred cloned cattle currently live in the United States, mostly
on research farms, so a repeal of the ban would have little immediate effect
on the food supply. However, dropping the barrier would dismantle a hurdle
that has kept the industry in the starting blocks, proponents say.
"There's no question that the voluntary ban ... is holding the development
of this business back," says Don Coover, a rancher from Galesburg, Kan., and
owner of SEK Genetics, a cattle-genetics company with cloning partnerships.
He has financed several cloning projects, including six clones of the
high-performance bull, Full Flush. Full Flush's calves are healthy
2-year-olds and have increased in value more than five times their original
production cost of $20,000, he says.
Cloned cattle like them could be used to breed uniform, high-quality
offspring. "You could make animals with less fatty meat or more nutritious
milk," says Lisa Dry, communications director of the Biotechnology Industry
Organization in Washington. "Or they could be more resistant to diseases,
which could make them safer for humans to eat."
Mr. Coover, who sells bull semen for artificial insemination, says there is
a growing demand for that product from top-quality bulls. "There's quite a
lot of interest in buying semen from the clones, but we're telling people
that we're not going to do that," he says. "It's the obligation of the FDA
to make a decision that is in the best interest of ... the producers and the
The FDA's preliminary decision, which is part of the formal risk-assessment
process and thus not final, is based on findings from a National Academy of
Sciences (NAS) report. Although the NAS study, commissioned by the FDA, said
food from cloned animals was probably safe, it did express reservations.
"Limited sample size, health and production data, and rapidly changing
cloning protocols make it difficult to draw conclusions regarding the safety
of milk, meat, or other products from ... cloned [animals]," the NAS
reported in August 2002.
But with cloning technology clipping along at a thoroughbred's pace, the FDA
decided last fall to release 11 pages of its risk assessment, which
considers cows, sheep, pigs, and goats. "Food products derived from animal
clones and their offspring are likely to be as safe to eat as food from
their non-clone counterparts, based on all the evidence available," FDA
officials reported in October. "These scientific findings also showed that
healthy adult clones are virtually indistinguishable from their conventional
However, the FDA has acknowledged that it will explore animal-welfare
issues. Research has shown that the cloning process severely affects the
genetic makeup of animals and can cause clones to suffer. The Humane Society
of the United States, for one, is deeply concerned about the ethical
implications of cloning.
"Deaths and deformities in cloned animals are the norm, not the exception,
and these studies make plain once again that these creatures are suffering
terribly in the process," says Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of HSUS.
"There is no societal value to this. This is just science run amok in the
service of the further industrialization of agriculture."
The main method of cloning involves taking the nucleus from a cell of the
animal to be cloned and placing it in an egg that has had its nucleus
removed. A University of Missouri study on cloned pigs, according to HSUS,
reported that "out of 10 born, 5 died or were destroyed by researchers due
to defects such as heart failure, lameness, and anemia."
Jorge Piedrahita and researchers at North Carolina State University's
College of Veterinary Medicine announced last month that they had cloned two
Duroc pigs. "Certain genes were dis-regulated or damaged," Mr. Piedrahita
And in 2002 Rudolf Jaenisch, a researcher at MIT, reported that cloned mice
have hundreds of abnormal genes. Some have a genetic tendency toward
The NAS has pointed out that ill clones would probably be more stressed as
they reach maturity, and it suggested the animals might shed more pathogens
in their manure. That would increase the potential of contaminated carcasses
entering processing plants and, later, the food supply.
"While some forms of animal cloning may have inherent benefits, others are
hard to justify," said the Consumer Federation's Ms. Foreman in a statement.
"The FDA needs to make, or ask another government agency to make, some
decisions about appropriate uses of cloning."
"In my humble opinion, non-cooperatin with evil is as much a duty as is
cooperation with good."
"I hold flesh-food to be unsuited to our species."
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
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