FDA (finally) approves cloned food

The FDA -- after years of twiddling their thumbs because of the irrational fears of "consumer" groups -- has finally approved cloned food for human consumption:

After years of delay, the Food and Drug Administration tentatively concluded yesterday that milk and meat from some cloned farm animals are safe to eat. That finding could make the United States the first country to allow products from cloned livestock to be sold in grocery stores.

Even if the agency's assessment is formally approved next year, consumers will not see many steaks or pork chops from cloned animals because the technology is still too expensive to be used widely.

But the F.D.A.'s draft policy touched off an immediate storm of criticism from consumer groups, as well as some concerns from meat and dairy companies worried about consumer reaction.

"At the end of the day, F.D.A. is looking out for a few cloning companies and not for consumers or the dairy industry," said Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group.

A cloned cow is a cow. It is not a super-special different cow. It is by definition the same animal you started with. It is like a cow twin that is ten years removed. Do you eat cows? Yes. Do you eat cow twins? Possibly. Well then there is no reason that you shouldn't eat cow clones.

That there was even a debate about this issue incenses me.

I think it must be because cloning in the public mind is synonymous with genetically-modified. There is no real association there, but there is not a shred of evidence GM foods are dangerous either. (Commenters, feel free to take issue with that. I dare you to find me a single instance in the past 30 years where some one has had to go to the hospital because of GM foods. Granted that the US has been a huge unregulated drug trial with respect to GM foods, but you will find that there has never been an instance where someone got sick because of them.)

In any case, I respect the fact that the FDA did due diligence on this one if only to finally silence all the critics who wanted to bring non-scientific considerations in the decision. I haven't the foggiest idea whether cloned animals are economically feasible, but it should at least be legal for people to try.


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Thank you for writing this - I was thinking of doing the same. Meat is meat, milk is milk - there are no peanut genes inserted that may trigger an allergy, no aflatoxin inserted, it is all Bos taurus through and through. The whole media coverage of this made me froth at the mouth!

I know I'm probably just going to get swatted over this, but have you considered the consequences of being dependent upon a genetically homogeneous -- um, forget homogeneous, identical -- food source?

Some researchers are already concerned that, for example, our pork supply or wheat supply or corn supply is becoming increasingly vulnerable due to inbreeding. Not only do we get inbreeding depression and loss of traits potentially valuble in the future, but genetic homogeniety means whole populations are susceptible to the same diseases. Look at the situation with the Cavendish banana.

Cloning may be fine as far as producing edible food is concerned, but in terms of being a failsafe method of food production it's downright scary.

If it is a non-issue, then why not mark cloned food as what it is and let the consumer decide at purchase. They notify folks of generic drugs don't they?

By kat compromise (not verified) on 31 Dec 2006 #permalink

As far as I can see, cloned food raises 2 major concerns

1) What is the process for ensuring that the animal is identical in every way? If the cloned animal is not a perfect copy, I would think that it raises some health risks.

2) Risk of inbreeding and disease as Angelica pointed out.


I would point out that cloning is different than inbreeding. When animals are inbred it increases the likelihood that deleterious mutations present in the population will be homozygous in individuals.

However, when an animal is cloned whatever you start with is whatever you finish with. If the animal is heterozygous for a deleterious mutation, no amount of cloning will make that animal homozygous with respect to that mutation.

In this sense, cloning is more resistant to mutation than inbreeding.


With respect to quality control, the only way to ensure absolutely genetic similarity is to sequence the animal. This is expensive so it is not likely to occur.

However, it is not a particularly necessary quality control method either. Whatever mutations are present in the starting animal will be overwhelmingly present in the new clone. It is possible that the cloning process will introduce spontaneous mutations, but 1) this will occur at a very low rate and 2) they are no more likely to be unsafe than when animals are bred naturally.

Fundamental to my argument is that the process of cloning cannot introduce new health risks. There are health risks associated with eating meat, but cloning -- because it is in now way genetically modifying the organism -- neither creates nor destroys any of them.


I think the inbreeding argument comes from the idea that the cloned animals could contribute to same gene pool as their "twins". A rule or some other safeguard to prevent the breeding of cloned animals would negate that possibility.

On the whole, this is a great post. I'll direct people here if they are concerned.

By Jokermage (not verified) on 02 Jan 2007 #permalink


I think you missed the point of Angelica's post, which was not about mutations in the cloned animals, but about the robustness of the food supply. If we become heavily reliant on cloned animals, then we may set ourselves up for a situation where a disease outbreak could take out a much larger fraction of animals than it would with a more genetically diverse population.

Also, regarding GM foods, I don't think that hospitalization is necessarily the right place to set the bar for safety. There have certainly been food additives linked to longer term health effects and GM foods probably deserve similar kinds of scrutiny.

By Eric Wallace (not verified) on 02 Jan 2007 #permalink


No offense but the FDA are not stupid, and neither are a lot of other people who've clearly given this a lot more thought than you have. The potential danger comes from the fact that cloning is HARD. Survival rates are still low because often different stretches of DNA end up activated and/or mitochondrial DNA complications and/or re-implantation effects causes abnormal development. Dolly died young.

Abnormalities can include differences in concentrations of key proteins and hormones, and could also mean that misdeveloped and possibly in that way abnormally disease-vulnerable or hormone-laden animals make it into the public's diet.

These kinds of effects could potentially pose a legitimate source of worry. "Could potentially pose" sounds like a soft complaint -- but but with cloning being both expensive and to no particular use (since breeding is roughly as effective and is significantly cheaper and since lab-grown meat isn't so far off that cloning appears all that attractive anyway) it's hard to claim that a little caution--or atleast the appearance of caution--wasn't a step well-taken by the fda. Biodiversity is, if not in the jurisdiction of the fda, still undeniably important and--as you point out--consumers are a bit skittish, so the calm that a measured approach can create is its own reward.

And your right to be "incensed" because somebody felt like questioning the merits of a technology which meets your approval--and by so questioning thereby displaying that they clearly don't have as 'sophisticated' an understanding of the science as you have--is hardly a scientific approach.

Next time write a long post that actually engages with somebody else who thought critically on the subject.

Here's an example of a less-scientific mind's approach, whose view you could have engaged constructively.


Ctrl-F "clone" to find the article about cloned meat.

Allergy one of the most unfortunate categories of people. And the spectrum of allergens is so wide, that is simply surprising to see sometimes absolutely healthy and happy person to whom are not terrible neither violent spring flowering, nor any especials WBR LeoP

If it is a non-issue, then why not mark cloned food as what it is and let the consumer decide at purchase. They notify folks of generic drugs don't they?