Safely Cloned Livestock In Our Food Supply?

Livescience has an article posted today reporting that “food from cloned animals is safe to eat,” according to the FDA.  This is after 5 years of study.  Evidently someone, somewhere, has been eating cloned meat for 5 years and not grown any extra appendages.  Call me cynical, but I don’t buy any of it. 

The FDA has been studying Tylenol for what, 50 years now?  Ibuprofen for 20?  And just last week they announced (and this is something pharmacists told me 10 years ago when I was a pharmacy technician) that tylenol can endanger your liver and ibuprofen can cause bleeding stomach ulcers. 

So now, all of a sudden, after only 5 years of study, the FDA announces this:

FDA believes “that meat and milk from cattle, swine and goat clones is as safe to eat as the food we eat every day,” said Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine.

I’m not about to start taking my nutritional advice from a veterinarian.  But that’s entirely beside the point.  We need more than five years of research to know if this is going to be safe.  And testing on the nation’s food supply is not something we should take lightly.  And they may not even label the food as cloned:

Labels should only be used if the health characteristics of a food are significantly altered by how it is produced, said Barb Glenn of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

“The bottom line is, we don’t want to misinform consumers with some sort of implied message of difference,” Glenn said. “There is no difference. These foods are as safe as foods from animals that are raised conventionally.”

Those in favor of the technology say it would be used primarily for breeding and not for steak or pork tenderloin.

Cloning lets farmers and ranchers make copies of exceptional animals, such as pigs that fatten rapidly or cows that are superior milk producers.

“It’s not a genetically engineered animal; no genes have been changed or moved or deleted,” Glenn said. “It’s simply a genetic twin that we can then use for future matings to improve the overall health and well-being of the herd.”

Right.  I’m not yet ready to gamble my health on your semantics.  Clones are, by definition, genetically engineered.  And as such, they are prone to errors.  Less so in the first generation, but inevitably errors will be produced.  (The exact word for this phenomenon escapes me at the moment, but errors in cloning, as in computer programming, are cumulative and grow at an accelerating rate.) 

Not to be too cynical, but I’d say they’re rushing to judgement on this.  And I’d still like to see who’s been eating the meat of clones’ offspring for the past 5 years before I believe the study they mention is applicable at all. 

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9 thoughts on “Safely Cloned Livestock In Our Food Supply?

  1. I’m not sure I share your concern about The Rack Of Dolly for a several reasons.

    First, errors happen in sexual production as well and errors aren’t always a bad thing. While you’re right that cloning of any sort could broadly be considered genetic engineering, Barb Glenn is also right in pointing out that no new genetic material has been inserted. This livestock doesn’t do anything normal livestock wouldn’t. All that’s changed is the recombination step that is the definition of sexual reproduction has been skipped. This is the spot where many reproductive errors occur as well as where one’s genotype is determined. Errors at this stage give rise to the reproductive advantages that lead to heritable change which makes evolution possible. Indeed, the entire male sex probably owes its existence to a chromosomal breakage that happened at this point somewhere in our distant, communal past.

    Cloning does away with recombination and it’s many hazards to use mature DNA from a differentiated adult cell as the blueprint for the organism. In a way, it’s actually less error-prone than sexual reproduction because one knows one has DNA that will produce a viable fetus (if you can convince it to behave like stem cell DNA), whereas this is simply not true in sexual reproduction.

    The bigger danger here is that the preferential use of a certain animal to generate all the breeding stock severely limits the genetic pool and, thus, the heartiness of the species. A generation zero parental with superior qualities may possess deleterious qualities as well that might not be seen as important when it is chosen for cloning. Those qualities would then propagate through the subsequent generations and that could lead to devastation of the species as all members will be essentially sharing the same genetic make-up. This is a fairly non-specific argument, though, in that standard livestock rearing aims to, indirectly, do the same thing, just not with out all the super science.

    So, errors happen. Severe errors usually are self-correcting in that they produce non-viable fetuses or at least organisms who’s genetic material dies with them and is not passed to a subsequent generation and the population at large. Less intense errors aren’t always deleterious or even noticeable and probably can be further reduced in the controlled cloning environment. So long as the livestock produced isn’t fundamentally altered (such as making cows produce chocolate milk or chickens that pluck themselves when slaughtered), any errors that occur are going to be largely irrelevant or at least similar to what one would find without cloning.

    Second, it’s important to remember that Tylenol and ibuprofen are both drugs and every drug has side-effects. Anytime one introduces chemicals to a complex biosystem like the human body, there is always going to be a chance of a bad reaction. The question is one of balance, does the risk of encountering a side effect or the side effect’s severity outweigh the advantage the drug offers? So it’s not as if this is new information or even all that particularly surprising. As of yet, though, no convincing science has been put forth that argues cloned meat or animal byproduct is inherently different from meat taken from animals that are the product of sexual reproduction. Current studies show exactly the opposite, in fact, that there is no fundamental difference.

    Third, it’s not like this meat is going to end up on your table directly. This is primarily for breeding stock, although there will be some usage for animal byproduct like milk. You won’t be eating the parental generation, but generation 1 or later. This gives yet another opportunity to weed out deleterious errors. However, it does again call into question the advisability of limiting genetic diversity in a food staple species.

    The word you were looking for might be mutation, or it might be geometric progression. I’m not sure, but either way, neither is cause for extreme concern.

  2. Well, ignoring the comment above, this sort of thing happens all the time with bio-tech. I don’t know about the cloned meat issue but genetically altered crops are grown all over the western world. That the altered genes could ‘escape’ into the wider environment via a pollinator is a possibility but it can’t really be completely controlled, despite what the growers usually claim.

  3. Amazing that not many seem to care about the ethical dangers of cloning animals for whatever purpose but are up in arms about stem cell research which can help so many people suffering today. But God forbid we don’t get our nice juicy steaks. We don’t need this.

  4. “As of yet, though, no convincing science has been put forth that argues cloned meat or animal byproduct is inherently different from meat taken from animals that are the product of sexual reproduction. Current studies show exactly the opposite, in fact, that there is no fundamental difference.”

    Actually, QJ, there is no convincing science, to my standards, that shows cloned meat is NOT inherently different. 5 years is not long enough of a study, nor is it broad enough. How long do we usually study pharmeceuticals before their public release? Some are studied for 10 years before release. Some are studied for a couple of years, released, then pulled because they weren’t studied nearly enough and people had to Die before it was deemed unsafe. That shouldn’t be the standard, for drugs or our food supply.

    QJ, IMHO 5 years is not nearly long enough of a study to determine efficacy in something so vital as our food supply. I don’t want to be the one eating Dolly’s clone-bred offspring only to find that there was a fine mutation (so-far unnoticed) that increases the likelihood of cancer. Or a third nipple. I’m not saying don’t do it, just study it more.

    While Tylenol and Ibuprofen are drugs, proteins are the very building blocks of our bodies, and getting into the habit of unknowingly ingesting mutated cells that we truly do not know the effect of is patently unwise. This is being rushed simply to create a market, and that’s not smart in any instance.

  5. Can you say “corpra-shuns”. I wonder how much “stock” (pardon the pun) an un-named politician, but we know who we mean has in this… We don’t do much in this country that isn’t just for the almighty dollar. Check out free speech t.v. The unvarnished truthiness…

  6. Pingback: PETA McNuggets, Part II « I Must Be Dreaming

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