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Send in the clones, spare us the clowns

By Alex Avery
web posted January 15, 2007

The world is awash in self-appointed "consumer" groups who purport to look out for you and me. But the reaction of these meddlers to the Food and Drug Administration's recent draft report declaring that meat and milk from cloned animals is safe reveals their narrow, anti-consumer political agenda.

Carol Tucker Foreman, the doyenne of the "consumer advocacy" mob, responded to the FDA's report first by citing polls showing many consumers believe animal cloning is "immoral." Setting aside the question of using morality as a basis for government food safety policy, morality didn't seem to stop Ms. Foreman from representing one of the country's largest pro-abortion groups when she ran a consulting firm in the 1980s and 90s.

Ms. Foreman then wrongly claims that the FDA ignored "the fact that more [cloned animals] suffer pain, deformity and disease." In fact, the FDA specifically addressed this issue, noting that the exact same abnormalities and birth defects (collectively called Large Offspring Syndrome) occur with other commonly used livestock reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization. The FDA noted that the rate "at which LOS is observed in clones has been decreasing" just as happened with in vitro fertilization and LOS "hasn't been seen in pig or goat clones."

Understand that clones aren't what you see in Hollywood, where full-sized animals (or body parts) grow up overnight in artificial electronic wombs. That's just a sci-fi scaricature. In the real world, cloned embryos are implanted in a real mother animal, develop in a real womb, and are born just like any other natural animal.

Foreman knows she doesn't have a scientific leg to stand on, so she tries one last political smokescreen by claiming livestock cloning is just a back door to eventual human cloning. Again, these aren't consumer issues, they're political – nor is the claim accurate.

Jean Halloran, whose organization publishes Consumer Reports, responded by saying "There is significant concern that we will be getting animals that are more prone to disease." Again, the FDA has directly addressed this concern, noting on its "cloning myths" website that "If clones survive the first few days after birth, they become as strong and healthy as any other young animals" and that "When they're young adults, they're completely indistinguishable by appearance and blood measurements from conventional animals of the same age."

The innocuous-sounding Center for Food Safety bills itself as an "environmental and public health organization" but employs no actual food scientists of any kind. It's run by lawyers who specialize in filing lawsuits against government agencies for daring to let science, not politics, guide food safety policy.

Joseph Mendelson, CFS's "legal director" called the FDA's ruling "a lose-lose decision for consumers."

Really? Because it costs roughly $20,000 per animal, cloning won't be used to replicate hamburgers. Instead, the technique will be used to expand the number of elite breeding stock, thereby improving the health and productivity of the overall livestock herd. This will allow farmers to produce higher quality products at lower cost and with fewer natural resources. In exactly which part of that equation do consumers lose? Sure sounds like a win-win to me.

The final hat-tip to the "consumer" gaggle's purely political agenda is their universal insistence on mandatory labeling of any food product derived from clones (or biotechnology in general). The CFS's Mendelson told the Washington Times, "Consumers are going to be having a product that has  . . . a whole load of ethical issues tied to it, without any labeling."

Nonsense. If consumers are interested in "clone-free" foods, the FDA has already made it perfectly clear that there is nothing to stop food companies from labeling their products as such if the label is "truthful and does not imply it is safer than other products."

And that's the rub. These so-called "consumer advocates" know that a mandatory label will be seen by the public as a de facto warning label and that a voluntary "absence" label will, in contrast, be seen as an empty, self-serving marketing ploy. Hence the full-court press for mandatory labeling even though there isn't a shred of scientific evidence anywhere that milk and meat from animal clones is any different from milk and meat from naturally-created animal.

The world today is experiencing the most rapid growth in demand for meat and animal protein products in human history – much to the benefit of overall human health and consumer happiness. But as a recent UN report noted, livestock for food occupy a third of the earth's land area. By 2050 the world's farmers will need to double their output to meet consumer demand, yet do so in a way that minimizes our impacts on the environment. Cloning and other biotechnologies will be critical tools in this important environmental struggle – if the political activists cloaked in consumer clothes get out of the way. ESR

Alex Avery is director of research and education at the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues and author of the new book, The Truth About Organic.


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