Open Your Mind to Cloned Food

Meat and dairy products from cloned animals mean better-quality food at lower costs to consumers. Pro or con?

Pro: Guaranteeing Fabulous Food

The 27% drop in beef consumption over the last three decades has cattle ranchers looking for a remedy. One of the biggest problems: Consumers don’t trust the steaks available in supermarkets. They feel reluctant to buy unless they know for sure that sirloin in their cart will taste hearty and full-flavored, yet tender.

Enter cloning. Instead of simply breeding more cattle and hoping that greater numbers will yield better beef, farmers can choose to reproduce cows guaranteed to produce the highest-quality steaks. How? At the slaughterhouse, where the determination of grade is decided, workers can harvest genetic material from prime steaks—the highest grade, which currently accounts for just 2% of all beef.

With those cells, the ranch can clone steers just like the ones that churned out winning steaks. Ditto with milk cows.

The livestock operation owned by U.S. farming giant J.R. Simplot Co. has already put these theories to the test. In addition to cloning animals that provide the best milk or meat, it has used the same technology to reproduce those with unusual desirable traits. For example, Simplot found one of the steers was gaining weight at a rate of 8 pounds per day eating the same feed that caused other steers to put on just 3.5 lb. a day. Today, seven clones of that steer exist.

So, with the evidence in, it’s pretty much all good, right? Well, not so fast. Despite the FDA’s report deeming the beef and milk from cloned animals safe for human consumption, some consumers feel "funny" about the idea of eating something "unnatural."

Time for a reality check. Scientific advances always sound a bit scary at first—imagine the first farmer contemplating the use of a milk machine instead of his hands. The truth is, the U.S.’s pioneering sci-tech has made it the superpower it is and given the world everything from the polio vaccine to the iPod, and now cloned farm animals.

Trust the FDA, and don’t try to stop progress.

Con: Don’t Risk Our Health—and Humanity

At best, cloned food is an unsettlingly weird prospect for diners, and at worst, the product of a new science that may expose humans to unsuspected health risks. Barely 10 years old, cloning remains too young to win the public’s trust, especially when its by-products appear on children’s dinner plates.

That’s why, despite the Dec. 28 FDA report deeming dairy and meat products from cloned animals safe for consumption, they should be clearly labeled to reveal their provenance so consumers can steer clear if they choose. Calling such products "repugnant," Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) has introduced the Cloned Food Labeling Act, which would ban such products from entering the organic food stream. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) has taken an identical bill to the House.

In a similar spirit, such progressive-minded food sellers as Whole Foods (WFMI) , Wild Oats (OATS), Ben & Jerry, and Organic Valley have announced they will reject any products from cloned sources. And rightly so, as the Pew Initiative on Food & Biotechnology has found that 66% of Americans feel uncomfortable with animal cloning.

And why shouldn’t they? People smoked cigarettes for decades before the Surgeon General determined them harmful to the health. "We were told DDT was safe, we were told Thalidomide was safe, we were told Vioxx was safe," points out Mikulski.

Other, non-health-related qualms enter the picture, too, as people wonder if this qualifies as a decent, natural way for animals to reproduce. A 2005 Gallup poll found that 61% of Americans believe it is morally wrong to clone sentient beings.

The procedure certainly has proved itself no boon to the animals themselves. A birth defect known as large-offspring syndrome has manifested itself in cloned calves. It means difficult labor for the mother cows. And the calves have trouble breathing in their first few weeks of life.

Let’s keep cloning in science-fiction novels, and conventionally engineered food products in our refrigerators.—PG

Reader Comments

Susan in Colorado

In theory, the practice of cloning should pose no health risks. But the reality is that this science is still in its nascent stages. Many unresolved issues, such as premature aging, health problems, and genetic anomalies suggest that cloning produces something less than its naturally bred equivalent. Moral issues aside, there is enough empirical scientific evidence to justify putting the brakes on introducing cloned animals into the human food chain until unanswered questions have been resolved and verified by additional independent studies.

David M

My No. 1 concern is not even the health risks like smoking that could rear their heads later in life, but the safety of cloned foods from the standpoint of reducing genetic diversity, thus making animals subject to quicker spread of disease. If most of the cows are clones and a virus or bacteria develops that kills them, what happens to our food security? That is why nature allows for genetic diversity through sexual reproduction. Nature has rules for a reason.

Laura

It is not natural to clone. It goes against nature and survival of the fittest. All the hormones injected into cows have been very unhealthy for the public. That's why stores like Whole Foods Markets are doing so well. Overweight Americans, both child and adult, are a major concern, and advocates of cloning want to make our beef "even tastier"? What—so we can eat more than we already do?

Ellen

Give me a break. Folks (including Mikulski and DeLauro) tell the FDA: "Act on science, not ethics" on Plan B, but "act on ethics, not science" on animal cloning. The entire scientific community agrees there are no food safety issues. People are just wigged out over the word "clone." Once again, ignorance triumphs.

Blake

This is a proven, safe form of animal breeding that allows us all to produce more high quality food while using less of the earth's finite resources. This is a win-win. We cannot be placed in a constant state of fear by those who wish to scare us into following their route to a meatless society. We have been using other advanced reproductive techniques to improve the quality and price of our food animals for decades, and now we have an additional, highly useful technique available. Cloned animals will be used for breeding, not for eating, and will therefore represent a very small percentage of the total food animal population.

Eric

It's really not particularly surprising, is it? Humanity hasn't been particularly open-minded lately, due in no small part to the influence religion has on the minds of the masses. Humans, by nature, fear change of any type. Most people panic when the menu at the local Burger King changes; one would expect no less at the introduction of something that goes against the morals of a large number of people. The fact of the matter is that cloning has been declared safe by the scientific community. I simply cannot comprehend why people are so eager to believe pompous politicians and religious zealots rather than those whose life it is to research these things. Just because your pastor suggests cloning is wrong doesn't mean it is. People need to sit down, open their minds for a moment, and think. The world is changing. Come along, or drown in your own obsolescence.

Stephen from Canada

Genetically engineered plants and vegetables are starting to pollute our genomic environment, and no one knows for sure what health risks and implications they have. The science of digestion and molecular breakdown of engineered or cloned organisms is still in a discovery stage. With cloning cattle and other food sources, another Pandora's box is opened.

GrayBull

Cloning in cattle will not become a significant or important technology for two reasons:
1. The vast majority of consumers do not want to consume cloned animals or milk. It is bad business to try to tell consumers what they should purchase.
2. There are better technologies—that will serve to offer consumers higher-quality and more-consistent beef—than cloning. Cloning in itself does nothing to improve the end product. By its very nature, cloning limits product improvement.

Wendy Paradis

No way would I buy anything that was cloned. Cloning can cause some animals to be unhealthy, and I am a health nut now. The FDA, in my opinion, is a joke. It approves meat with hormones injected that causes more cancer in human beings. They can take their cloning, and how can I put this nicely? Flush it down the toilet.

William Jorgensen

The failings of monocultural agriculture are never mentioned, nor are the evolutionary shortfalls for a cloned species (that remains static in a closed-system). The economic argument falls down when you consider such historical failings as the Irish potato famine, where reliance on one variety led to crop failures, mass-starvation, and forced immigration. A clone will never evolve resistance to pathogens (that are evolving every minute), because there's no change in the specie. Also, any undetected genetic shortfall in the host clone will be replicated until the genetic errors show up many generations later.

If you think "quality" has anything to do with the economics of agribusiness, you might like to consider the tasteless but "pretty" examples of GM food since its inception. Or you might like to wonder at the agricultural "scientific genius" behind the suicide gene in crop seeds (a real boon to humanity that one). As for my family and me, we eat no GM products at all, grow much of our own food, and eat like royalty. Good luck!

javaid ali

If people are not going for meat due to low quality, then let's bring in a cloned President, a cloned Secretary of State, and so on. It's not always wise to meddle with nature.

Alexi

Nature is a nonlinear complex system with deep causal chains. A little cloning here and there will have some serious repercussions when the long causal cycle completes in nature. Now some short-sighted profit-driven corporations are putting us in harm's way. Look at the incidence of many autoimmune disorders in the U.S. due to scientifically processed food. Many of these were nonexistent 30 to 40 years back, when we ate wholesome natural foods.

Fergie

Personally, I don't know whether cloned meats are safe. But I do know that I prefer—no, demand—that cloned food products be labeled, so I can make an individual choice with my wallet.

iintgrty

Cloned or not, these animals are living beings forced to give up their lives for us just because they don't have an opposable thumb with which to cage us up and drive a bolt into our brains.

jacob

I am perfectly satisfied with my $5-per-pound grocery store sirloins. Just to satisfy steak foodies with the "perfect steak," I do not want to jeopardize the aforementioned genetic diversity of U.S. steer. Trust me, if every cheap cut of steak tasted like prime grade, it no longer would be so memorable.

Walter from Perú

Well, cloning food products shouldn't be a problem as long as the genetic material used to clone the new livestock comes from young animals. As we age, our DNA is damaged to the extent that it can't repair itself. This is part of the aging process. If we use old genetic material on cloned cattle, we are in for trouble. It is important to mention that twins are natural clones, and they don't suffer any of these strange problems like large-offspring syndrome. As long as we keep DNA in optimal condition, there shouldn't be a problem.

teejay

Cloning animals is stupid. What do we really get out of it? A better question would be, what do the people doing the cloning get out of it? One thing they get is an opportunity to patent the clone based on the technology they used to clone it.

Linda Mackenzie

It is undemocratic not to give people the freedom of choice. By not labeling these products, the FDA is taking away our right to choose. I also believe there has not been enough testing, because to my knowledge, 1) no formal testing on humans has been done; and 2) no independent testing has been done that has not been by, affiliated, or paid for by the cloning community. The Pew survey showed that a greater percentage of Americans do not want cloned meat or milk products, but the FDA is ignoring this. We do have the power to change things if we unite and stick together. Talking is great; walking our talk is better. So let's get our money to talk. I suggest a moratorium—do not buy any meat or milk from Mar. 25 through Apr. 1.

Sylvester Sheriff

Forget about moral issues as a determining factors. There are major health problems relating to the use of cloned cows and other animals for food consumption. Why create more problems by contaminating our food supply?

Heather

This is also an animal rights issue. Factory farms are already getting out of control. If these farms could take out the breeding process to up their profits, there's no limit to how badly the animals can be treated. Why do humans not care about how our food is procured?

Vern Leach

Quality meat is much more than genetics. We raise a small herd of beef cattle and sell directly to the consumer. We are not a factory operation. Our customers (friends—we know them and they know us) receive a quality product and can know everything about what they are eating. Quality meat comes from a healthy animal, raised with care, fresh air, fresh green grass, clean fresh water, and no hormones, no drugs, and no chemicals in the pasture grass. It's just right and wholesome. And, in my experience, almost always very good.

Cheryl

Forty-five years ago, doctors, actors, and other professionals endorsed specific brands of cigarettes on TV. They were ignorant of the health risks. We know it often takes a long time for health effects to show up from consuming things the FDA endorses. I do not ever intend to knowingly consume anything cloned. If the FDA approves it, it should require the seller to identify the cloned food, so people like me can choose for themselves whether they want to ingest this artificially created mess.

cheryl J.

It is ironic I am listening to a talk show about transfat, another man-made laboratory-created artificial chemical added to our food. After much research, we are being told it is horrific for us and promotes heart disease. I feel that cloned food will fall into the same category. After a large number of people die or get sick from it, we will be told it is not good for us. Given the pathetic health-care system we now have, I am not willing to play Russian roulette and take an unnecessary risk that may result in damage to my health the insurance company will probably not pay for.

Jose

In our Latin American countries, we are still struggling to produce meat and milk at reasonable prices in line with our purchasing power, and we have always been supporters of new technologies to help. This new advanced reproductive technology, which has nothing to do with transgenic animals, will help to produce more food of the best quality there is, from animals resistant to disease, and at lower prices. The human population needs to improve its nourishment. Do not let this new opportunity pass by and never come back again. New technologies look uncertain at the beginning, but then we all benefit from them. I remember the media a long time ago reporting that the new color TV would produce cancer.

Catherine

Cloning is not about food supply. Cloning is about making money at all costs, at ignorant consumers' expense.

Heidi

How arrogant of folks to believe cloned food is safe when there is no evidence this is true. Without long-term studies to determine whether consumption of cloned food will yield negative health risks, we cannot claim it is safe or unsafe; we just don't know. Have Simplot and his family eaten their cloned beef and milk for 25 years or more? Realistically, to determine the health ramifications, researchers would have to study cloned foods for more than one generation (33 years) and preferably for three to four generations. The project at this point is driven by money, which motivates all those who support it, including the FDA. Please do the research before pushing this onto the world.

Russ

Simplot, if you are reading this, please let me know when your product is available so I can purchase.—kurhajetz@gmail.com

louisa

I'm surprised at the number of people who are placing cloned animals into the same category as genetically engineered animals. Genetically engineered animals are the outcome of DNA that has been modified, whereas clones are made from DNA that has already produced a quality individual. When you clone an animal, you start from a single cell with unmodified DNA in it, and that DNA is what directs the development of the final product. The new cloned animal will not contain any "unnatural" products, unless they were already coded for in the original animal's DNA.

That said, cloning is relatively new, and there are still many flaws scientists need to work out. After all, if cloned animals were truly replicates of their donors, why are such a high percentage of clones so unhealthy ("unhealthy" as in frail, not poisonous)? We still need to learn how to reset the epigenetic clock before we can obtain true replicates. As a researcher, I personally would not start selling clones as a finished product.

Steve Kopperud

Most folks aren't aware that FDA conducted probably the broadest and most extensive food safety evaluation ever as part of its draft risk assessment on the safety and equivalency of foods from cloned animals and their naturally born offspring. The New Zealand and French governments have conducted similar evaluations and come to the same conclusion. The notion that a "high percentage" of clones aren't healthy is a holdover from a decade ago when the technology was new. Today, the health of cloned animals is equivalent to that of other livestock born using artificial insemination, embryo transfer, in vitro fertilization, etc. As to genetic diversity, any concern is based on the assumption only a few animals will be cloned. This isn't the case as each producer will have the opportunity to have his or her best producers reproduced.

Mark Mead

How hypocritical are we Americans? Sixty-one percent think cloning animals immoral but not abortion of human beings?

Ericka Manning

I firmly believe that as humans, we have the right to make decisions. If the FDA decided to allow the cloning of cattle, then it is responsible for making sure the products are labeled so Americans can decide for themselves whether they want to buy them. I am not an expert at this cloning thing; I just know I would love to be able to make that decision myself.

jerry

All the worries about cloning are basically fluff and superstition, but that won't stop Whole Foods and Mikulski from making a market out of it—and that's the real point.

Pat

The answer to the 27% drop in beef purchasing has nothing to do with trusting steaks. It has to do with less discretionary spending (wages have not kept up with inflation), the loss of quality good-paying jobs, and the changing demographics of the U.S.

In case you haven't noticed, we are in a decline as far as individual farmers are concerned. Having fewer people closer to the production sources of food increases price. We do not need cloned food. We do not want frankenfoods. There is no food shortage, and we do not need to drastically alter the origin of our foods.

Food and abortion have no reasonable relationship.

We natural human beings have rights to a natural world, and food supply and created genetics must not be allowed to take over natural genes in any species of animal or plant. If we are not careful, these cloning and agricultural corporate giants whose only concern is profit will hold patents on the genomes of millions of beings—none of which they created, because the creator did. This is all pseudoscience and not natural science.

Why don't they spend their millions and their human resources on producing something that will benefit the world and the natural state of quality life for humans and animals of every kind. Stupid one-track minds are trying to exploit greater profits with absolutely no moral ethics about manipulating things to the detriment of the rest of the planet.

Neelma Bhatia

The idea of eating something that did not grow in a natural environment—but in some laboratory—is rather ghastly and repugnant. Why must we keep on meddling with nature? One of these days, it will surely backfire on us in a big way. Surely, there must be some boundaries as to how far we can manipulate the planet to satisfy our own greed. Leave the poor animals alone.

robert joseph

So, if cloning is so "pure," why are they afraid to label it? And, while on the subject, what happens once we do find a serious problem throughout the food chain you've been using to feed your children? This Neo-con capitalism scares the hell out of me.

Ellen

Those against cloning animals are not, as one comment put it, "putting ethics over science." Science is the reason cloning animals is unethical. Scientifically speaking, messing so strongly with natural processes when everything is interconnected and the process has already been shown to have many problems, well, that's not sound science.

Genetically engineered crops we were told are safe. A closer look at the chain reaction effects these crops have had shows a far different story. According to Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, consultant genetic scientist of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific and director of EcoNexus, "Genetic engineering is far from precise. There are a number of steps in the genetic engineering process, and most of them are subject to various uncertainties. A single gene mutation can have serious effects...yet genetic engineering is all about creating mutations. The outcome can be tremendous, and totally unpredictable and unexpected."

We are seeing a huge die-off of bees right now, likely due to genetically engineered Bt crops. Because bees are used as pollinators for various crops, they are vital to the interconnected systems of nature, and the value they generate in the U.S. is estimated at $14 billion per year.

jerry

I don't think any of these critics of "cloning" and "genetic engineering" (two different things BTW) hold water, but hours of debate probably wouldn't change any minds here.

I just think you should realize that all the people pushing "organic" and "natural" foods, while attacking the profits from cloning, are out to make money and are doing very well at it.

Here's an interesting article about one of the premier organic farms from when I was young, Walnut Acres, which got bought out by a guy who got rich from AOL:

http://www.nofa.org/tnf/2006spring/The%20Walnut%20Acres%20Story.pdf

Ellen

Quick response to Jerry:
I am well aware that cloning and genetic engineering are two different things. I make the parallel because in both cases, we are told that something completely unpredictable is safe, when it can, and has, opened up a can of worms that can never be recalled. In both cases, there is incredible bias in the studies showing safety.

And yes, organic farming is a for-profit business, and as any BusinessWeek reader knows, businesses need to be profitable to continue existing.

Organic farms make profits selling ethical, usually necessary, goods. Companies like Monsanto make profits from selling incredibly toxic, devastating chemicals and crops to match (i.e., "Roundup Ready"). Because toxins and carcinogens have a hard time selling themselves, there is a network of dark marketing—biased studies, farmers being sued if ge pollen drifts in their fields, farmers being bribed with leather jackets to snitch on their neighbors, consumers and farmers being lied to blatantly, people and animals and land being poisoned, etc.

Bob

Some of these people need a dictionary. Look up "clone." It's not genetically engineered; it's an exact duplicate of the original. Besides, you health nuts are going to die just like those of us who enjoy life, so have a steak, a nice dish of premium ice cream, bacon and eggs for breakfast, and lighten up. With a bit less stress you might even live an extra week.

George

After reading this article and most of the responses, I have only a few things to add. For those against: A clone is not genetically altered. Therefore it should be as healthy as the donor. Now if the donor has a dormant gene that is bad, it will show up in the clones sooner than it would in non-clones.

Twenty-five years ago, science, medicine, and the FDA said there was nothing wrong with the drug Prednisone; it was prescribed heavily for a variety of reasons. We now know that Prednisone has many side effects and can lead to diabetes, osteoporosis, and severe mood swings. My solution: Do research for more years, and then tell me it safe.

Di

This is just wrong. There are enough problems with normal meat, i.e., being pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones. No one seems to be monitoring this. You only have to look at the spike in breast cancer to see the result of eating estrogen-pumped meat.Why would anyone believe any future initiatives will be watched to prevent health issues?

CAfarmer

If we must decide on whether to eat cloned foods using only science then I want evidence that the science is deep and factual enough.

Has cloned beef and milk from cloned animals been proven to have the same enzymes, vitamins, and minerals? How about omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids? Do they absorb in the same way into the human gut? How about vital nutrients--even simple ones like iron?

If a cloned steer can convert feed "more efficiently" into pounds of meat, does that meat have the same makeup? Sounds too good to be true.

Why do cloned animals age faster than their naturally bred counterparts? Are they not converting nutrients properly? Cloned animals are prone to fatal birth defects--do the ones without fatal flaws have minor flaws that affect their meat and milk as well as their longevity? Are there hormonal problems that cause this unusual aging? Too many unanswered questions.

Food is not solely for enjoyment. Food is what keeps our bodies (and minds) healthy. But only if it is properly produced. Any variance in the makeup of our food can have grave effects on the health of our bodies.

jim

First, all this simply boils down to is how much money it will put into the hand of the person who started this crap regardless of who or how many people it harms. The FDA claims this is safe, but this claim is based solely on this person's paid board of "scientists" that say it is safe. This is just another attempt to push through something they have themselves neither studied nor care to study, just like in recent drug recalls, and for every unsafe item they push through, you can damn well bet they get a healthy kickback. Let the members of the FDA be fed this crap forcibly if need be, and then let some real scientists study them over at least a 10-year period and keep it high-profile so everyone can see what is happening, and then maybe they can say it's safe.

earl

Cloned meat is fine--go meat!

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