Groups blast FDA approval of food from cloned animals

FDA decision greeted by firestorm of criticism from consumer, organic, and animal rights groups; USDA recommends voluntary moratorium on selling food from clones.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released a report concluding that food from cloned animals is as safe as that from normal animals. The report gives the green light to the marketing of meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs, and goats. The FDA report met with a swift and harsh response from consumer, farm, organic, and animal rights groups. Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture asked for a voluntary moratorium on sales of food from clones until consumers are more accepting of such products.

“Appallingly irresponsible”
A wide range of groups including Farm Sanctuary, the American Anti-Vivisection Society, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, and organic food companies blasted the FDA’s decision. Farm Sanctuary spokeswoman Natalie Bowman called the decision “appallingly irresponsible.”

“The FDA’s bullheaded action disregards the will of the public and the Senate—and opens a literal Pandora’s Box,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, which is considering legal action to block sales of food from clones.

Kimbrell refers to a provision in the 2007 Senate Farm Bill that would delay FDA endorsement of the use of food from cloned animals. The amendment, advanced by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and co-sponsored by Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), calls for a rigorous and careful review of the human health and economic impacts of bringing cloned food into America's food supply. The senate overwhelmingly passed the bill by a vote of 79 to 14.

“As safe as food we eat every day”
The FDA’s 968-page “final risk assessment” finds “no evidence of hidden risks” in foods derived from clones, although it does acknowledge that “moral, religious, and ethical concerns…have been raised” by cloning of animals.

“Meat and milk from cattle, swine and goat clones are as safe as food we eat every day,” said Dr. Stephen Sundloff, FDA food-safety chief.

The FDA says that no special labels will be required for food from cloned animals, which consumer groups also oppose. A 2007 California bill which would have required such labels was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Look for organic label” to avoid clones
Organic Valley, the nation’s largest cooperative of organic family farmers, strongly opposes the FDA decision. CEO George Siemon said, “Organic Valley and its meat brand, Organic Prairie, will never allow the use of cloned animals on our farms and in our products. And, we assume the USDA will never change its organic standards to allow for cloned animals.”

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) declared that cloning as a production method is prohibited under the National Organic Program. Caren Wilcox, OTA executive director, said that the issue gives organics another level of differentiation in the marketplace. “In the future, consumers who seek to avoid cloned meat, dairy, or other animal products should look for the organic label on products,” she said.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) also criticized the decision. “In the face of ever-increasing food safety concerns, it is troubling to see the FDA approval of products from cloned animals to be sold to the public, when questions surrounding the health risks, legal implications and ethical concerns remain unanswered,” said Tom Buis, NFU president. “Furthermore, there is no data to suggest any consumer demand for such products.”

Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, expressed concerns about the health of cloned animals. “Despite the fact that cloned animals suffer high mortality rates and those who survive are often plagued with birth defects and diseases, the FDA did not give adequate consideration to the welfare of these animals or their surrogate mothers in its deliberations,” he said.

Major meat producers Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods both said they had no plans to produce meat from cloned animals. Spokespersons for food retail giants Kroger and Safeway also said they wouldn’t sell food from cloned animals.

Surveys show American consumers oppose cloning of animals for food. A 2006 survey by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology found that 61% of Americans who claim to have heard about cloning are uncomfortable with it.

For example, Patricia Schwarz of Pasadena, California told the Los Angeles Times, “Oh, that’s creepy. I wouldn’t eat cloned food.”

While the FDA was saying cloned food products were safe to eat, the US Department of Agriculture asked US farmers to keep cloned animals off the market indefinitely. Bruce I. Knight, USDAs undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, requested a voluntary moratorium to allow for “an acceptance process” that Knight said consumers in the US and abroad will need, “given the emotional nature of this issue.”

According to Knight, there are 600 cloned livestock in the US, with about 570 of those cattle. The clones were produced by the two companies that produced cloned animals, ViaGen, based in Austin, Texas, and Trans Ova, of Sioux Center, Iowa.

The two companies recently introduced a tracking system that would help consumers avoid food from cloned animals.

EU: cloning animals “not ethically justified”
The European Union also weighed on the issue. Similar to its US counterpart, The European Food Safety Agency released a report saying that meat and milk from cloned animals pose no special health risk. However, the report also said that cloned animals are more prone to disease than conventionally bred animals. Meanwhile, the European Commission’s Group on Ethics said that it does not see “convincing arguments to justify the production of food from clones and their offspring.”

“Considering the current level of suffering and health problems of surrogate dams and animal clones, the EGE has doubts as to whether cloning animals for food supply is ethically justified.”

(Sources: Dow Jones, Food, Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today,)

© Copyright February 2008, The Organic & Non-GMO Report