Cloned foods stir up hearty debate

An MU researcher says dig in, the food should be just fine.
Friday, December 29, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:43 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

While an MU researcher is hailing a Food and Drug Administration finding that milk, meat and other products from cloned livestock and their progeny are safe for people to eat, some Columbia consumers remain wary.

The FDA risk assessment released on Wednesday creates the real possibility that meat and dairy cases within months or a few years might carry hamburger, steaks, chops, ribs and bacon from cloned animals. Final approval of cloned animals for food remains months away as the FDA accepts public comment on the issue.

Randy Prather, an MU animal scientist who has done extensive genetic and cloning research with pigs, finds the idea of cloned livestock products in grocery stores appealing.

“I see no reason why cloned animals or their offspring cannot enter the food chain,” Prather wrote in an e-mail response to Missourian questions. He said meat and milk from cloned animals are identical to that from ordinary livestock.

But Debra Harris, a hairstylist working Thursday morning at A Cut Above on Providence Road, isn’t buying it. “I am not going to eat meat from cloned animals because it is not natural,” she said.

Melissa Patterson, who was walking down Eighth Street with her three children on Wednesday, said she would eat products from cloned animals if the FDA issues clear guidelines for labeling them as such.

“I think I would be OK with them if they tell consumers that they are cloned,” she said.

Patterson isn’t alone in her opinion. While several consumer groups have insisted that products from cloned animals bear special labels, the FDA is leaning against such requirements, arguing that products from cloned and noncloned livestock are virtually indistinguishable.

Once the FDA issues a final ruling, it will be up to individual companies to decide whether to stock products from cloned animals.

Chris Friesleben, a spokesman for HyVee in Columbia, said she is unsure whether her store would carry meat or milk from cloned animals if the products get final clearance.

“It’s an issue that we would probably spend some time examining before we make a decision,” she said. “We have to, first of all, examine all our reasons to find out whether it is something that our customers will accept or not. If they are not going to buy it, then there will be no use carrying it.”

Prather said it’s important to note that clones are different from genetically modified animals, in which specific genes have been added or removed to alter the animal’s biological makeup. Cloned animals, on the other hand, are simply genetic copies of conventional livestock.

Nevertheless, Louis Randle, who was taking a smoke break downtown on Wednesday, said he is leery of products from cloned livestock and would only use them after doing thorough research.

“I don’t want to be used as a guinea pig,” he said. “I would have to do some research before I can decide whether to eat them or not. I would like to find out what effects they would have on anyone over a period of time.”

Susan Ruland, vice president of communications for the Washington D.C-based International Dairy Foods Association, said that because animal cloning is a relatively new technology, it’s important that the FDA have a thorough and deliberate dialogue that allows people to openly discuss their concerns before products are made available for sale.

“While we are reassured that the FDA’s draft review finds no health or safety issues with food from cloned animals, we support the FDA’s decision to maintain the moratorium on milk and meat from cloned animals entering the food supply during the public comment period,” Ruland said in an e-mail to the Missourian. “Cloning is a niche-market technology. It remains to be seen whether dairy farmers will choose to use it.”

Ruland also noted that there are few cloned dairy cows in the country, and many that do exist are show cows.

Prather said cloned livestock products would have the potential to actually improve Americans’ diets only if the cloned animals have traits that make their products healthier for people to consume.

It’s more likely, Prather said, that cloning would be used only to expand the population of genetically valuable animals that can pass their traits to offspring that would be destined for the food chain.

“So it is not that all the animals that enter the food chain will be clones,” Prather said. “These animals will be too valuable to eat. It will only be when these clones go beyond their reproductive life that they will enter the food chain.”

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