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Thursday, December 28, 2006

A "Cloned Beef" Sandwich

Today, the FDA approved the sale of meat and milk from cloned animals for human consumption. Though it will be years before cloned animals begin showing up in the supermarket, already some people are freaking out that they might accidently eat cloned meat.

First, let’s discuss what cloned animals are and what they are not.

Cloned animals are the identical twin of an existing animal that was born at a later time. Stephen F. Sundlof, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said, "Based on FDA's analysis of hundreds of peer-reviewed publications and other studies on the health and food composition of clones and their offspring, the draft risk assessment has determined that meat and milk from clones and their offspring are as safe as food we eat every day. Cloning poses no unique risks to animal health when compared to other assisted reproductive technologies currently in use in U.S. agriculture."

Cloned animals are not genetically modified. They do not have bug, plant, or sea urchin genes inserted into their DNA. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are already in our food chain, though the only GMOs that we commonly eat are plants, such as corn with increased resistance to corn fungus. Clones are a perfect twin of the original animal, not mutants.

So, should you be concerned about eating clones?

First of all, no. It’s just an identical twin of a normal cow, pig, or goat. (Sheep have not been approved, a ironic omission considering “Dolly the Sheep” was the first successfully cloned animal.)

Second of all, cloning is a lot more expensive than artificial insemination and other reproductive technologies already in use. People are not going to clone animals to be sent directly to the slaughterhouse. They’re going to clone their best prize bull or their astonishingly productive dairy cow a couple times, and then those animals will be over-represented in the next generation of livestock.

That over-representation of genes in future generations, the homogenizing of animal herds, is the real threat that is implicit in the unrestricted cloning of livestock. It opens the door for the mammalian equivalent of monoculture and the loss of genetic diversity, what there is, in livestock. It increases the likelihood that an emerging pathogen could spawn an epizootic (an epidemic in an animal population) and could devastate livestock herds with no natural resistance and little variation in that lack of resistance.

That’s the real danger here: loss of genetic diversity.

TK Kenyon