Are cloned animals on the U.S dinner table?

It has been six years since the BBC, while reporting on a cloned cattle herd in Britain, said cloned products have been in the U.S. food supply for two years. Margaret Wittenberg, global vice-president of Whole Foods Market at the time agreed.

United States customers are “oblivious” to cloned products in the food supply she told the BBC. “You don’t hear about it in the media. And when you do tell people about it they look at you and say ‘you’re kidding! They’re not doing that are they? Why would they?’”

When Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was asked point-blank, during a 2010 trade mission in Canada, if “cloned cows or their offspring have made it into the North American food supply,” his answers were not comforting. “I can’t say today that I can answer your question in an affirmative or negative way. I don’t know. What I do know is that we know all the research, all of the review of this is suggested that this is safe.”

Since the first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, was created, cattle, horses, goats, pigs, mice, dogs, cats, a mouflon sheep, a mule and a racing camel have been cloned.

While cloning sounds straightforward, it’s riddled with a reprogramming problem called epigenetic dysregulation. “The newborns tend to be large for their breeds, and often have abnormal or poorly developed lungs, hearts, or other affected internal organs (liver and kidney), which makes it difficult for them to breathe or maintain normal circulation and metabolism,” says a 2008 FDA report. “LOS [Large Offspring Syndrome] newborns may appear to be edematous (fluid filled), and if they are to survive, often require significant veterinary intervention. Problems have also been noted in muscle and skeletal development of animals with LOS. These animals also often have difficulty regulating body temperature.”

Up to 90 percent of cloned cattle and sheep die or are born with deformities like enlarged umbilical cords, respiratory distress, heart and intestine problems and LOS. In addition to requiring surgery, oxygen, and transfusions at birth, the clones can eat insatiably and not necessarily gain weight, says the report. In fact, so many animals die to make one surviving clone, the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) said it had “doubts as to whether cloning animals for food supply is ethically justified.”

Still, if cloned animals are in the U.S. food supply we do not know it. In 2008, the FDA reported that products from clones and their offspring were safe to eat and would not be labeled because they are “no different from food derived from conventionally bred animals.” Similar claims are made about genetically modified foods—GMOs. The FDA did ask food producers to “voluntarily keep milk and meat from clones out of the food and feed supplies until we finish assessing their safety” but voluntary measures have not been successful with another burning food regulation issue: antibiotics used in meat production.

Martha Rosenberg is a freelance journalist and the author of the highly acclaimed “Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health,” published by Prometheus Books. Check her Facebook page.

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