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You Might Be Eating Clones

Milk and meat from cloned animals could be in the U.S. food supply, and the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture can’t detect it, says an FDA official, despite a USDA “voluntary moratorium.”

Christopher Doering of Reuters reported Tuesday that the “FDA and USDA have said it is impossible to differentiate between cloned animals, their offspring and conventionally bred animals, making it difficult to know if offspring are in the food supply.”

Cloned cows

AP/Jason Turner

Offspring of cloned dairy cows.

In January, the FDA released a report giving two thumbs up on products from cloned cows, pigs and goats (the FDA didn’t make a recommendation on sheep because there wasn’t enough information), stating in a 968-page “final risk assessment” that food from cloned versions of these animals doesn’t pose any harmful health risks. The milk and meat from cattle was deemed safe, as well as meat from pigs and goats. The day after the FDA report was released, the USDA requested that U.S. farmers not sell food products from cloned animals, citing a need to first harmonize rules with trading partners and to build acceptance.

Consumers in many countries, including in the United States, have said they oppose food from clones or their offspring because of health and safety issues and because of concerns for the health of the clones themselves. Ethical issues are also being considered by the European Food Safety Authority, which is funded by the European Union to provide risk assessments on food. It’s their opinion that “considering the current level of suffering and health problems of surrogate dams and animal clones, the EGE has doubts as to whether cloning animals for food supply is ethically justified.”

Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Rick Weiss, who was then a staff writer at the The Washington Post, reported in January the FDA doesn’t require food companies to label products containing cloned livestock. But the agency may allow other companies to label products that do not contain cloned meat or milk.

In May, Nancy Scola reported in Science Progress on the disarray of the federal food safety system. With several recent food recalls and government agencies constantly placing blame on one another, Scola wrote that the food safety system is so complicated it “verges on the absurd.”

“When we had the spinach episode, everyone acted like it was a great surprise,” former FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford, a Bush-appointee and long-time federal food safety official, told Scola, “But the likelihood of something bad happening [with the food supply] is always quite high.”

The number of cloned animals in the country is low—only around 600, with cattle being the majority—but offspring are unaccounted for, and the size of the second generation is unknowable, especially since a single male clone can sire countless offspring through mail-order semen sales. Indeed, clones are too expensive to slaughter for the meat market, so for most farmers the business plan is to use them to breed high-quality offspring. Alex Seitz-Wald of NewsHour Extra says one breeder in Kansas has been selling his cloned cattle’s sperm for years. According to Seitz-Ward, cattle experts believe that food products from the offspring of clones already exist in the American food supply.

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