Guest Opinion – Meat and milk from cloned animals are safe to consume, and the product of them is ethically sound
Disclaimer: The following essay was written to fulfill a request by this blog’s author, my friend, chef Michael Walsh. Michael and I first became friends as we slogged through molecular genetics labs at college. I currently work in the field of clinical research and am familiar with the US FDA’s process of assessing the safety of medical devices – a very similar process used (in coordination with the USDA) in assessing cloned food-products. The following essay reflects my personal conclusions on cloning that are based on my research into the topic. This writer wishes that any criticism of these postulations be constructive and supply resources (if possible) so that we can all learn together.
”How do you feel about meat or milk from cloned cattle?” That was the question postulated by this blog’s author. In order to discuss this topic fully, we first need to clarify a few definitions:
· Genetically Modified Organism (GMO): an organism (animal, vegetable – not mineral) that has a genetic code that has been “fiddled-with.” An example of this is a tomato that has been “made stronger” by inserting a gene from peanuts – in order to have the tomato express a protein that would make it resistant to pests.
· Assisted Reproductive Technology (AST): In the field of animal husbandry, this pretty much incorporates anything that is done to produce offspring other than the old-fashioned “third date” bull-on-heifer tango-dancing. Techniques of AST include artificial insemination (used pretty much as the norm at most farms), in-vitro-fertilization (also commonly used), and cloning.
· Cloning: Common term for the method where the DNA from a full-grown animal is put into a single-celled embryo in replacement of the embryo’s DNA. Therefore the embryo grows up to be a “clone” of the original animal, in the exact same fashion as an identical twin. (Note: NO tinkering with the DNA occurs. A clone is NOT a GMO.)
Cloning has a bad rap. Let’s not mince words here. When the average person hears “meat or milk from a clone” – visions of horribly deformed versions of Susan Sarandon in Alien 3 pops into the front of the mind. (Wow – was that an impressively bad movie, or what?) That...or for the very few people out there who have seen the New Zealand spoof “Black Sheep” – you may fear armies of carnivorous cloned sheep who are out to take-out mankind. But let’s put Hollywood aside for a minute. Let’s address and debunk the common concerns one-by-one:
The meat or milk from cloned animals is unsafe: There are really two arguments/fears here. First and foremost of all concerns is that products from cloned animals are “Frankenfoods” and may have a bad effect on our health. While there is a legitimate (albeit currently theoretical) argument against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food supply (e.g. a tomato that has been modified with a peanut gene might express an extra peanut protein that would cause people with peanut allergies to have a reaction), there is really one simple thing to remember about clones: They are NOT GMOs. Cloned animals have no different DNA than the original animal. They are – in essence – the exact same thing as an identical twin. The second concern is that products from cloned animals is unsafe because the progeny from the cloned animals could have a higher rate of genetic issues that would cause concern. The FDA addressed both of these concerns in their review of data compiled from cloned cattle. Specifically, in the draft decision of 2003 concerning cloning in agriculture, the FDA noted specifically that “Edible products from healthy clones or their progeny do not appear to pose increased food consumption risks in comparison to comparable products from conventional animals.” The FDA opened this report and analysis up to the public for comment and concerns and in February of 2007, the Association of Food and Drug Officials officially noted their agreement with the FDA’s risk assessment only adding that “most of the products from cloned animals would come from the progeny, not the clones themselves.” This is not due to a safety concern – it is simply that the cloned animals are too valuable to use in this manner.
Cloning is an unnatural process. I want my food to be natural. Most meat and milk that you consume currently comes from animals that are bred by the use of assisted reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination or IVF. (Did anyone see the “Dirty Jobs” episode where he had to artificially inseminate livestock – definitely not a glamorous job, but very common.) The food you currently eat is not naturally bred.
The process of cloning is cruel to the animals and therefore I will not support it. Critics pose that the cloning process results in a higher number of failed impregnations in cattle and therefore is ethically immoral as it causes animal (fetal) deaths. This is pretty much the only valid argument in the bunch, however it must be said that proponents of this argument are also against all assisted reproductive technologies in agriculture and would overall prefer their animals free-range, free-wheeling, with flower garlands on their heads. This author truly applauds this valiant belief as I’m a big proponent of free-range food and ethics in treatment of animals in our food production, however those who hold this opinion should be prepared to only consume farm-raised protein only once every two weeks (as supply and production would decrease radically below current consumption in the US) and witness a heifer be “put-down” after her hips and back legs are shattered to pieces by an over-exuberant bull. I assure you from my experience – it is a very sad sight.
In fact, there are some that would argue that the process of cloning animals is more ethical in the treatment of the cattle. If the healthiest and strongest animals were cloned to populate the following generation, then it would be theorized that the next generation of cattle would need less medical intervention (like the current over-usage of antibiotics) and they would live healthier, more disease-free lives based solely on the basis of good genetics.
My conclusion: So where does that leave us? Based on the currently available information and with a full understanding of the cloning process, this writer says “bring on the burger.” Instead of worrying about whether or not my burger was once a cloned animal, I’ll instead concern myself with bigger and true safety concerns such as whether or not I’m ingesting a slew of antibiotics or growth hormones that could hurt me or (on the animal cruelty angle) whether my beef came from those horribly inhumane holding pens you see on the California Highway 5 where there is no more than 4 inches of space surrounding each animal. Besides – if my burger is Bessie’s clone, it doesn’t really matter as I probably ate her twin last week. Same thing.
1. FDA draft decision on cloned livestock (full data): http://www.fda.gov/cvm/Documents/CLRAES.pdf
2. Association of Food and Drug Officials opinion
3. General information websites on cloning: