Animal clones' offspring are in food supply
Animal Clones' Offspring Are in Food Supply
With Removal Of Voluntary Ban, Meat, Milk on Rise
By Jane Zhang and Julie Jargon
Wall Street Journal, Sept 2 2008
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122031044800588585.html [subscription needed]
*Milk and meat from the offspring of cloned livestock are entering the U.S. food supply.
The number of clones is on the rise, and no one is keeping track of all their offspring. In January, the Food and Drug Administration said products from cloned cattle, pigs and goats -- and their conventionally bred offspring -- are safe to eat.
Phil Lautner, who owns a farm in Jefferson, Iowa, said he has sent offspring of clones to be slaughtered for food in the past "several years." He said he currently is raising 50 to 100 clone offspring, many from his six genetic matches to the acclaimed bull Heat Wave.
"There's not one bit of difference between clones and offspring of clones, and offspring of animals that aren't cloned," he said.
Don Coover, a veterinarian, rancher and owner of SEK Genetics in Galesburg, Kan., estimated that "hundreds, maybe thousands, of offspring of clones" of beef cattle already exist in the U.S. -- though that is a fraction of the nation's 97 million head of cattle. He said he has sold about 30 offspring of clones to be slaughtered for food.
Animal cloning, which received world-wide attention with the replication of Dolly the sheep in Scotland in 1996, is done by injecting genetic material from the animal to be cloned into a donor egg from another animal. The resulting embryo is then implanted into a surrogate mother, which carries it until birth. Cloned animals can breed with other animals to produce offspring.
The technology allows farmers to replicate animals with desirable traits, such as immunity to certain diseases or the ability to produce more milk. But not many have used it because of the expense -- about $20,000 a clone -- and U.S. regulators' call for the food industry to voluntarily refrain from selling products from cloned animals.
There is also resistance among consumers and advocacy groups, whether because of ethical, health or environmental concerns. Cloned animals are more likely to have health problems at birth than traditionally bred animals, and few studies have been done that follow clones or their offspring through their full lifespan.
"As a mom of two young children, it makes me very uneasy, very nervous that these things are in the food supply," said Alexis Joyce, a 35-year-old homemaker in Arlington, Va., who shops mostly at farmers' markets. "It just doesn't feel right."
Bruce Knight, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said he can't rule out the presence of clone offspring in the food supply. "There's no way to differentiate them," he said, but added that the number is so small that consumers are "highly unlikely" to have consumed products from them.
Regulators have lifted the voluntary ban on sales of milk and meat from offspring of clones (but not from clones themselves), following the FDA's safety verdict in January.
The European Union's food-safety agency concluded in a July report that animal cloning "is on the verge of widespread commercial use and expected to spread within the global food chain before 2010." The agency has said food from cloned cattle and pigs is safe, although an EU ethics panel has opposed sales of such food on ethical grounds; the European Commission has yet to set a policy.
The FDA safety clearance has sparked interest from breeders and ranchers, said Mark Walton, president of ViaGen Inc. The Austin, Texas, livestock-cloning company will produce about 200 clones next year, he said. Typically, it takes about four years to produce a clone, breed it and have offspring ready for slaughter.
Some of the offspring can fetch high prices. Mr. Lautner, the Iowa farmer, said he paid $80,000 for a calf descended from a Heat Wave clone.
Dr. Coover said he has sold thousands of straws of semen from cloned bulls, which is used for breeding with noncloned cows.
"You are not going to McDonald's and buy hamburgers made from cloned animals, because cloned animals are too expensive to slaughter," he said. "But the offspring of clones -- that's very possible."
That is making some people uncomfortable. Consumer and animal-welfare groups say their supporters have flooded the FDA with some 150,000 letters opposing cloning without label requirements.
Consumers who want to avoid food from cloned animals or their offspring can buy products labeled organic. A USDA advisory panel ruled last year that clones and their offspring aren't compatible with the idea of organic foods.
The USDA hasn't adopted the panel's recommendation, however, and is considering a broader ruling on livestock origin that would, among other things, address whether products from clones' offspring should be eligible for organic labels, Mr. Knight said. The USDA is unlikely to make a final decision anytime soon.
Barbara Glenn, managing director of animal biotechnology at BIO, the biotech industry's trade group, said clones and offspring shouldn't be excluded from the organics label. Doing so would be difficult because no one is tracking the progeny. Two of the major cloning companies, ViaGen and Trans Ova Genetics, have a voluntary tracking program for clones, but not offspring.
Companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Smithfield Foods Inc., Tyson Foods Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc. have pledged not to use products from clones. They haven't made a similar pledge about meat and milk from the offspring of clones.
Vermont-based ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's is pushing the government to create a national registry for clones and their offspring. It has pledged not to knowingly use products from such animals.
Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety, said the consumer group plans on Wednesday to make public the pledges it collected from companies on the issue.
The International Dairy Foods Association, a trade group, said it also isn't ready to embrace products made from cloned livestock or their offspring. "Our concern is what impact it would have on the market," spokeswoman Peggy Armstrong said. "We don't want to see people not buy milk."