(This article was #64 in Discover Magazine’s top 100 stories of 2007.)
Meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs, and goats are safe to eat, the Food and Drug Administration has declared, setting the United States on course to become the first country to approve such products. The agency’s draft risk assessment says food from clones can safely be marketed without any labels to distinguish it.
In an article in the journal Theriogenology last January, agency scientists analyzed dozens of studies—many of them from cloning companies Viagen and Cyagra—and concluded that meat and milk from clones showed no “nutritionally or toxicologically important differences” from products now consumed.
But some advocacy groups aren’t buying it. “We’re very concerned,” says Charles Margulis, spokesman for the Washington-based Center for Food Safety. “We don’t think there’s really enough science to show that clones are safe.” Along with other groups, the center collected 140,000 comments on the proposal to send to the FDA, which is declining further comment until it has reviewed the public response.
Since the much-ballyhooed birth of Dolly the sheep in 1996, scientists have cloned cattle, horses, pigs, goats, and other mammals—each a genetic twin of its parent. This doesn’t sit well with the public, however. About 64 percent of Americans are uncomfortable with animal cloning, and 43 percent believe the products are unsafe for consumption, according to a 2006 survey by the nonpartisan Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. So far, a voluntary moratorium by food manufacturers has kept milk and meat from clones off the market.
Margulis says, however, that “the FDA’s history of putting the biotech industry’s interests ahead of consumer interests doesn’t give us a lot of hope.” Now more and more states are getting involved, hoping to address the public’s concerns by introducing legislation requiring the labeling of cloned food.