Thanks to a tip off from the Ethicurean, I became aware today that it looks like the Food and Drug Administration is going to approve the sale of meat from cloned animals. In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, meat from descendants of cloned animals has already entered the food supply. (This is not quite the same thing as cloned meat entering the food supply, but it does bear some thought.)
The Center for Food Safety registered its opposition to cloned meat in a press release, citing a number of concerns which you should probably go read. The short version is that cloned animals require more antibiotics, carry a higher risk of sponsoring drug resistant bacteria, and have a lower quality of life than normally reproduced animals. As I say, the Center for Food Safety gets way more in depth about the issue in their press release, even throwing some science around because they can do that, over there, at the Center for Food Safety.
The issue as I see it here has everything to do with labeling.
The Food and Drug Administration (with some help from neutral sources like companies that market and produce cloned animals) has determined that there is no difference between meat from cloned animals and conventionally farmed meat. The same goes for dairy products and eggs. This statement has also been made about genetically altered crops, and animals treated with rBGH. Based on scientific evidence, the FDA has determined that these products should be allowed to enter the food supply.
Fine and well. If the science supports it (although I am not sure that it does), there is no rational reason not to allow these products onto the market. This is how a free market works—I am opposed to guns, as a principle, but I don’t see those being banned from the market. Likewise, I dislike packaged foods, corn syrup, Nestle’s Quick, and pudding snacks. But all of these “foods” are readily available on the shelves of pretty much every food market in the world.
The issue here for me is one of choice. I can choose, for example, not to buy Nestle’s Quick because the product is clearly labeled. If I don’t want to put that into my body, I can purchase something else instead. Likewise, I can choose to buy dairy products from cows not treated with rBGH, if companies choose to label their dairy thusly. I can also choose to buy free range meat, or cage free eggs.
But I might already be buying altered crops and consuming them unknowingly, because there are no labeling laws. If cloned meat is allowed to enter the food supply, I might find myself eating that as well because without labeling, there is no freedom of choice. (Although I imagine that some companies may voluntarily adopt “clone-free” labeling, just as other companies tout their products as “GMO-free.”)
The obvious solution might be to patronize farmers’ markets and local sources for my food. And, you know, this is a really good solution, for a lot of reasons. But unfortunately, it is not a choice that everyone can make. People on a limited income, for example, usually cannot afford the higher prices that boutique food requires. And yes, we live in a world where locally based food is a boutique item because the yuppies have made it one. This doesn’t make locally based food a bad thing, but it does make it expensive.
Some people live in areas without farmers’ markets, or do not have reliable access to such a market. I do not think that these people should be penalized for shopping in a grocery store…I just do not. I think that everyone should be able to exercise freedom of choice over what they put into (or take out of) their bodies. For this reason, I am very supportive of clear labeling indicating whether or not my food contains GMOs, or comes from a cloned animal.
Will the FDA support this?
Probably not, because when given a choice, consumers show a preference for food that has not been tampered with. Mandatory labeling would destroy companies like ViaGen and Monsanto. As a result, I imagine that they would heavily lobby in the event of a serious consideration of labeling laws.
Even if you believe the science, you might take exception to the quality of life for cloned animals. Cloned animals may be valuable, and therefore likely to be better treated. But they are also subject to extreme health problems, which only get worse as an animal is cloned repeatedly. Cloned animals often suffer brain damage, joint problems, malformations, and circulatory problems, among other issues. These do not a life of happiness make. They also make the animals more expensive to raise and care for. Sort of makes you wonder why cloning is so popular, doesn’t it?
In fact, cloning is used to perpetuate desirable traits, like cattle which produce a large amount of meat or milk. By cloning, farmers can ensure an exact copy of the favored animal, and discard other versions. This has serious potential repercussions for species diversity, aside from being creepy. Indeed, it sounds very corporate and terrifying. I’m not sure I want my meat being handled that way…I don’t know about you.
This, my friends, is what consumer freedom has come to: in a case where it will not damage the reputation or profits of a company, it might be permitted. Otherwise…good luck.