Insights by Goldie: FDA and USDA: Cloning around with food safety

Sound Consumer February 2008 | by Goldie Caughlan

True to form, in January the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued its final report on foods from cloned animals, or their offspring, predictably declaring them safe to eat.

The report concluded a six-year, supposedly “in-depth analysis” on whether there are any food safety issues with the meat of beef, pigs, goats or their offspring, or the dairy from cloned cows, goats or their offspring. The FDA says it has insufficient information on cloned sheep, so it excluded them from the findings.

Also true to form, the FDA stated that in the absence of finding any safety issues, there’s no scientific reason to require any labels on food products from clones, nor is there any reason to require tracking of cloned animals or their products. The FDA thus gave a green $$ gift and a clear green light to the cloning industry — an elite subset of the broad field of biotechnology — and all the breeders of cloned animals.

But there was one tiny exception that I find very interesting. A few of the cloned animals whose histories had been reviewed by the FDA were revealed to be not just cloned animals – but clones of animals that first were “enhanced” with a few extra genes. They were genetically engineered.

Since genetically engineered animals have not been approved by the FDA (yet), such chimeras were removed from the study, which approved only animals from “natural” animals. This underscores suspicions that the ultimate direction of the cloning industry — where the biggest money is envisioned — would be animals “designed to specifications,” then replicated. Nature isn’t good enough for biotechies!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) chimed in with the FDA when it sang the “cloned food is safe” tune — yet it was not total harmony. The USDA agreed with the FDA that the products of clones or their offspring are perfectly safe but differed from the FDA’s full-throttle “bring on the clones” approach.

Rather, the USDA asked U.S. producers to continue voluntarily the previously requested voluntary moratorium on marketing. The USDA reasons that consumers need more time to become “comfortable” with cloned foods, so when they do come to market there’ll be a “seamless” acceptance.

(Cloning executives told the Washington Post they haven’t tracked how many offspring of their cloned cattle already have entered the food supply! The actual clones are expensive and used as “prized” breeder stock.) The USDA says it plans to begin meetings immediately with industry to move this along.

Isn’t that thoughtful of the USDA? Since 64 percent of us have said “No, we don’t trust this stuff,” the USDA will use our scarce tax dollars to figure out how to convince us otherwise. They’ll work on making us think that what we’ve always desired most is a juicy clone burger and cloned milk-shake! (Dr. Strangelove understood!)

The truth is that this is a time when our supposed food-safety watchdogs, the USDA and the FDA, should be busting their behinds to work in concert with consumers to help increase food safety, plant and animal diversity, and soil and animal health. But these “protectors” ignore all our concerns and preferences.

Consumers increasingly are choosing foods from humanely raised animals. The Center for Food Safety, the Humane Society and others who have dissected the FDA’s sloppy analysis of cloning, report exceptionally high percentages of horrendously malformed clones, very sick and disabled animals, and terrible pain and suffering. The FDA has brushed all that aside, stating that these and other such “ethical” questions are beyond the scope of its study.

Bottom line: PCC of course never will knowingly carry meat of cloned animals or their offspring. USDA organic standards clearly prohibit cloning.

Here’s the zinger. Certified organic or not, there now exists NO mandatory oversight system for tracking the offspring of cloned animals. Unless such a system can be established, verification of lineage will become increasingly problematic. Pandora’s box is wide open, thanks to our food “safety” regulators.

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