In 2006, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released documents which suggested that cloned animals and cloned animal products would be allowed into the American food supply. The result was a mass outcry by citizens all over the world, who raised serious concerns about the idea of cloned animals in their food. This public comment mirrored the response to genetically modified organisms and other revelations about American farming such as exposures of concentrated animal feeding operations and the routine practice of feeding animals rendered parts of other animals, a situation that could potentially cause bovine spongiform encephalitis, or mad cow disease.
The FDA has maintained that cloned animal products are safe for consumption, and has performed numerous studies on clones and their products to support this claim. In fact, products from cloned animals have already been eaten by some Americans, apparently without any ill effects. The FDA analyzed the structure and content of cloned animal products and compared it with traditionally reproduced animals, and discovered no statistical difference between the two.
For consumers, several things are issue in the discussion about cloned animals. The first is the question of whether or not cloned tissue and animal products are truly safe. The second is that many clones are also genetically modified, and the FDA has said that genetically modified animal material is unsafe for human consumption. The third is an issue of choice: whether or not cloned meat and animal products are safe, consumers want to be able to choose what they put into their bodies.
The first concern about cloned animals is largely negated by the expense of producing a clone. Which technologies may become less expensive, making a clone is labor intensive and very costly: allowing cows to reproduce normally is still cheaper. Clones are used to improve breeding stock: by cloning, for example, a particularly perfect bull, a farmer can increase the yield of semen to produce calves or sell to other cow farmers. These clones live pampered lives because they are extremely valuable animals, although biologists have raised concerns about species diversity: cloned animals decrease diversity, especially if one clone is being used to produce potentially hundreds of offspring.
The second concern, about genetic modification of cloned animals, is more problematic. It may be very difficult to isolate genetically modified animals from normal animals or their cloned kin, although because animal reproduction is more noticeable than that of plants, “cross pollination” may be easier to avoid. However, genetically modified salmon which have escaped into the wild have been causing serious problems for wild salmon, because the genetically modified fish can still breed and dilute the wild gene pool. The purpose of genetically modified cloned animals is unclear, because the FDA has not stated any intent to allow their products onto the market, due to health concerns, but the risk of genetic corruption of healthy animals is still there.
Finally, the issue of choice is a large one. Many animal rights activists have raised issues about how humanely cloned animals will be treated, since they seem to be one step removed from conventionally produced animals. Individuals who are concerned about animal rights are worried about clone rights as well, because cloned or not, the animals still have thoughts, feelings, and desires. Other consumers are simply trying to eat more natural or healthy foods, and have doubts about consuming cloned animals. If the FDA does not institute and enforce labeling laws, people may not be able to make informed choices about their food. Food activists have warned that tracking clones may be very difficult, and it may not even be possible to accurately label meat once cloned animals enter the food supply. Organic farmers are already taking steps to protect their stocks, but this may become difficult when multiple generations of descendants of cloned animals are available on the open market.