Friday, December 29, 2006

Animal Cloning to be Normalized, if FDA has Its Way

From the New York Times:

After years of delay, the Food and Drug Administration tentatively concluded yesterday that milk and meat from some cloned farm animals are safe to eat. That finding could make the United States the first country to allow products from cloned livestock to be sold in grocery stores.


Here's the FDA's draft study's executive summary.

How do you conclude that human consumption is safe if you've only had a few years to make this determination? Why all the rush? It sounds a lot like what happened with how genetically modified foods were approved for human consumption: The everyday consumer becomes the guinea pig and the proof whether it's safe or not depends on how the general population fares over the long term. Here's the FDA's concluding statement on consuming cloned food from the last page of the draft study's executive summary:

Food Consumption Risks: Edible products from normal, healthy clones or their progeny do not appear to pose increased food consumption risks relative to comparable products from conventional animals. Confidence in this conclusion is relatively high due to empirical evidence from bovine clones, and the consistency of empirical observations among the other species. Progeny of clones are likely to be as safe to eat as their non-clone counterparts based on underlying biological assumptions, evidence from model systems, and limited, but consistent empirical observations in the species evaluated. Additional data on the health status of progeny, and composition of milk and meat from clones and their progeny would serve to further increase the confidence in these conclusions.
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Did you notice that there's nothing in there about seeing how people fare when eating these foods? They say cloned food compared to noncloned food is likely as safe[...]based on biological assumptions, modelling, and limited empirical observations in the species evaluated. They're in too much of a hurry apparently to see what the affects might be in humans to consuming this stuff, and can't be bothered to do comprehensive observations of the cloned species.

In other words, to find out if consuming cloned food (and genetically mutated food too) is safe, the FDA essentially says, "The early indication is yes, but let's have people consume it so we can find out for sure". The FDA bet the nation's health they were right on GM food, and now they're going to bet it again on cloning. The only reason to hurry is to help business interests. But why does the biotech industry get so much pull with the FDA? The last time I checked, the FDA's Mission Statement didn't have "protecting the health of bioindustry profits" as a competing goal to "protecting the safety of the food supply".

Cloning will accelerate genetic engineering in food animals dramatically.. The two will go hand in hand (bioengineers create a "supercow" and then replicate her a zillion times over), so if you're OK with cloning, then you need to be comfortable with genetically modified food as well.

Consumers will have to pay a premium for non-cloned food products once cloned food comes on the market.. You'd think that the relative unpopularity of cloned food would require farmers and markets to sell it at a discount to uncloned food to get it purchased, and that the price of 'normal' meat and dairy would stay around the same price. However, if the FDA has it's way, it will allow cloned food to be mixed in with uncloned food without being labeled, so it will have the benefit of becoming 'normal' and fetch a price no different from uncloned food. That is, until food sellers start identifying their uncloned products as such and charging a premium for them. Consumers get shafted no matter what they buy.

To comment on the wisdom of the FDA's draft decision, you have until April 2 to do so. This should get you to the place where you can comment online.

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