March 15, 2007 (Vol. 27, No. 6)
Identification of Food From Clones Could Increase Credibility of the FDA
Since a sheep named Dolly made headlines in 1997, a public debate has swirled around the issues and implications of her very existence. Much of that discourse has shed more heat than light on the issue of cloning, with the result being that the public is confused, feels misled, and has become increasingly concerned about what’s in their food. While this discussion is unavoidable, one might argue that it needs to be based less on emotion and more on better information.
While most people will never have to deal with some of the issues raised by cloning, one aspect of the cloning debate is most immediate. The FDA has announced that it will likely approve the sale of milk and meat from animal clones—a decision which would result in consumers unknowingly purchasing these novel foods.
What would be the problem if food from clones were approved for general sale? Proponents could argue that there appears to be no reason for the public to fear cloned food, and they might cite studies that support this opinion. But there is more at stake in the public debate than simply putting forward information. As noted above, information should be the key to persuading a skeptical public. The problem is that persuasion is not a rational process, and the biotech industry has failed to take this into account when addressing the issues raised by its products.
Freedom of Choice in the Marketplace
Americans in particular are proud of their freedoms, and these are more fully ingrained in our character than we may realize. One of the most important rights we have—indeed it’s the basis for our entire way of life—is the freedom of choice, especially when it comes to what we and our children are eating. The right to choose is something we hold dearer than nearly any other freedom.
The FDA, poised as it is to approve the sale of milk and meat from cloned animals and their offspring, has failed to consider this. If approved for sale according to FDA guidelines, cloned food would not be required to be labeled.
Eliminating the American consumer’s right to know what they are eating is seen by many as a fundamental attack on their rights. The FDA’s failure to require labeling raises grave doubts in the public mind about the safety of our food supply. This is especially troubling given how the FDA intends to handle these foods.
The FDA admits, in their own risk assessment, that the vast majority of animal clones are unhealthy and would not be suitable for the food supply. However, the agency has made assurances that it and the USDA would be able to cull, or pull, these animals out of the food supply, and milk and meat would only come from the so-called “healthy” clones.
Here are two agencies that have failed to protect consumers from Salmonella and E-coli in countless food products, yet now, they are saying they will be able to ensure that only the safe, healthy clones make it into the food supply? Why should the public trust them now?
There are millions of Americans who, for religious, health, or personal reasons, do not wish to consume milk or meat from cloned organisms or their offspring. Their concerns may be based on logic, faith, or emotion, but no matter what their origin, these concerns are valid ones because they stem from deeply held beliefs. These concerns must be addressed.
Labeling is one way to do that, and without a ban, is the only way to give consumers any choice at all. As a regulatory agency, the FDA should at the very least require labeling of these foods. Anything less than that is a failure of the public’s trust.
Biotech companies should also want labeling on their products precisely because it’s a good business decision. They should require it of themselves and others in the industry precisely because it will help them gain the public trust by restoring their right to choose.
The FDA justifies its rush to approve cloned animals in food, claiming that advances in animal cloning have resolved issues related to poor animal health, animal suffering, and food safety. This is simply untrue. One of the world’s leading cloning scientists, Rudolph Jaenisch of MIT, stated in an article in 2006, “You cannot make normal clones. The ones that survive will just be less abnormal than the ones that die early. There has been no progress—none—in the last six years in making cloning more safe.”
The Center for Food Safety (CFS) supports a ban on the use of clones in food production until the food safety and animal cruelty problems in cloning have been resolved and public discussions have redressed consumer rights issues and the moral and ethical dilemmas that cloning raises.
This is not an effort to shut down the advance of science or technology; it is rather an effort aimed at full disclosure and the creation of a better food industry. It’s also an effort to preserve the right of free choice in the marketplace.
The FDA’s impending decision flies in the face of massive public opposition to animal cloning, peer-reviewed scientific studies that raise concerns about eating food from clones, and troubling animal cruelty and ethics concerns associated with the cloning process. These are issues that need to be addressed before any productive movement forward can occur. Coupled with its poor recent performance, the effort to deny a basic freedom of knowing what’s in our food will make the FDA look like next year’s FEMA.
The biotech industry should not stand too closely to yet another poorly run federal agency.
Rebecca Spector is West Coast director for the Center
for Food Safety. She is associate editor of “Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture”
and the forthcoming “Your Right to Know: Genetic Engineering and The Secret Changes in Your Food”.
E-mail: [email protected].