QUOTE: "A train wreck is coming"

OK expected for sale of beef from cloned cows, offspring
Industry, consumer groups are concerned such foods could meet backlash from public.
The Baltimore Sun, October 2, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The federal government is nearing a decision to allow the sale of meat and milk from cloned cows and their offspring, according to officials from government, industry and consumer groups.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to take a major step toward approval soon, proposing to permit the sales, subject to 60 days of public comment and some additional review.

That could lead to choice cuts of steak and cartons of milk produced from cloned cattle landing in kitchens in the coming years.

Given the high cost of cloning, industry officials and consumer advocates say it's more likely that consumers would be sold the meat -- if not the milk -- of offspring of cloned cattle, not of the clones themselves.

"You're not producing them to eat -- you're producing them to breed," said Scott K. Davis, president of Start Licensing, a joint venture of biotechnology companies that own the licenses for cloning livestock. He said cloning a cow would cost $15,000.

Even after the FDA reaches a final decision, livestock producers will need up to four years or more to raise offspring ready for slaughter, and most dairy farmers might ignore the technology until the cost falls, their trade groups said.

Once approval comes, however, industry and consumer groups are concerned that a public backlash will follow. Scientific studies support the safety of the food products, but surveys indicate many Americans remain jittery or harbor ethical concerns.

"A train wreck is coming," said Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America. "It's not about the science. It's how people see their food."

Some consumer advocates and dairy companies have urged regulators to delay a decision until those fears can be calmed. Yet, with studies supporting the food's safety accumulating, the FDA has edged toward approval.

The FDA had said an announcement was likely within the next few weeks. But the recent, surprise resignation of FDA Commissioner Lester M. Crawford might delay it to the end of the year, or even longer, according to industry and consumer groups.

The decision would represent one of the first major acts by acting FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach.

When the FDA does make an announcement, the agency said, it would release the draft of a report on the safety of eating and drinking from cloned animals and, in all likelihood, tentative rules governing the sale of the foodstuffs.

"We're well-aware that there are many social and ethical issues related to the cloning of animals," Crawford said at a Sept. 19 food conference.

The FDA said its ruling would encompass cloning of goats, pigs and sheep, as well as cows.

Since 1997, Americans have been eating processed foods made with genetically modified vegetables, such as corn and soybeans.

But many consumers regard goats and pigs differently from canola and squash, polls show. And talk of cloning prompts fears straight out of science fiction movies.

A national survey last year by the Pew Initiative found that 57 percent of those polled opposed scientific research into the genetic modification of animals. Often, the reason cited was a fear of humans playing God, even among those who are not very religious.