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and milk from cloned animals is safe for human consumption. What this means to you and I is that increasingly, there will be food derived from cloned animals on our grocer’s shelves and on our breakfast tables. The following article provides a starting point for understanding this newest development. In the months to come we will examine ways that people of African decent can safeguard themselves against genetically engineered food, cloned food and the overabundance of toxicity in our food supply.
What are You Having for Breakfast?
By Jomo W. Mutegi, Ph.D. January 2008
Breakfast If you’re anything like me, few things beat a hearty breakfast for getting the day started right. For many the crisp aroma of a favorite blend of coffee (complete with sugar and cream) does the trick. For others it’s the spicy sweetness of home cooked sausage. Even those who don’t indulge in the big breakfast can on occasion appreciate a bowl of cereal, or a slice of buttered toast. In the years to come, the hearty breakfast may bring us more concern than it does comfort. The January 15, 2008 ruling by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared that meat and milk from cloned animals is safe for human consumption. What this means to you and I is that increasingly, there will be food derived from cloned animals on our grocer’s shelves and on our breakfast tables.
Background How has this come about? Remember in February 1997, there was a big media focus on a sheep named Dolly who was purported to be the first mammal cloned? Dolly was actually “born” in 1996, but her creation was not announced until 1997. Since Dolly, biotech companies have pushed the envelope with cloning technology, searching for cost-efficient methods of cloning mammals and also searching for commercial uses of clones. Two of the largest producers of cloned cattle are ViaGeni and Trans Ova Geneticsii. Mammal cloning is a fairly simple 5-step process. Step one – take the nucleus from a single cell of the animal that you want to replicate. Step two – remove the nucleus from an egg cell of the same or similar animal. Step three – insert the nucleus from step one into the egg cell from step two. Step four – administer a jolt of electricity (like in the Frankenstein movies). Step five – implant the egg into the womb of an animal suitable to birthing your creation and wait. To date the only known mammals to be cloned are mice, rats, rabbits, cattle, swine, sheep, goats, deer, horses, mules, cats, and dogs. Of these mammals, only swine, goats, and cattle have been declared safe for human consumption by the FDA. A few of these critters probably shouldn’t be eaten regardless of what the FDA says. Benefits Before you try this 5-step cloning process at home, ask yourself, “Why would I want to clone an animal?” and “What is wrong with normal reproduction?” Among those industries that stand to benefit from cloning technology there are a number of purported benefits. For example, the corporate leadership at ViaGen is quick to point out that cloning technology can help to improve the quality of cattle produce, as well as yield, genetic line verification and disease resistance. Admittedly, these benefits may mean more to cattle producers than to cattle consumers. However, so that we don’t feel there is no benefit to us personally, one livestock economist from Purdue University helps us to see how consistent meat production improves quality. According to the economist, “Why is it one time I buy a steak and it’s the greatest steak in the world, but the next time, and I cook it the same way, it doesn’t taste the same?”iii Breakdown Well who would be against great cuts of steak every time? While she has not come out against great steak, Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists (http://www.ucsusa.org), has come out against the FDA’s rush to approve cloned cattle. In a statement released January 15, 2008, Mellon points out that, “Animal cloning is a controversial technology with few, if any, benefits to consumers.” She goes on to state that, “Most cloned animals have severe defects and are more likely to die at an early age than ordinary farm animals. Although successful clones may appear normal, the possibility remains that some may harbor subtle genetic defects that could impair their health or make them unsafe for consumption.” Yanna Lambrinidou, president of Parents for Nontoxic Alternatives points out that, “Until the FDA studies short and long-term health affects of cloned foods on humans… it lacks evidence on human safety.”iv
Objections raised by Mellon and Lambrinidou raise several concerns. • First, the FDA’s conclusion that cloned food is safe for human consumption lacks merit in that they neither conducted studies nor examined studies which sought to examine the effects of human consumption of cloned food. They only examined chemical similarities in cloned meat and milk compared to non-cloned meat and milk. • Second, there is no basis on which to be certain of the long-term consequences of eating cloned food. The technology has not even been available long enough for long-term examinations. So we have no idea how long-term consumption would affect us as individuals or our offspring. • Cloned cattle are known to have an extremely high rate of birth defects. Yet, the FDA has been quick to dismiss the prevalence of birth defects in cloned-cattle. The prevalence of birth defects should at least be a warning sign that merits closer investigation. On a positive note, there are many food producers who have chosen to disallow cloned food from their own food supply until there is greater support from consumers. Among these are Dean Foods (the nation’s largest milk producer), Oberweis Dairy, and Sara Lee Corporation. While these companies are more motivated by fear of losing customers than by questions of ethics, or potential hazards due to consumption, their response to consumer concerns is still encouraging. For more information on cloned food and what it means to your health and the health of your family, visit www.sankoreinstitute.org. In February we will release the Audio Documentary, What are You Having for Breakfast? This production addresses the preceding issues in greater depth and will also answer many other pressing questions, including: Questions of Labeling 1. If they stand behind the safety of cloned food, why does the FDA and the biotech industry oppose labeling of cloned food? Questions of Regulatory Control 2. Since the FDA declared cloned food safe in January 2008, why is it that cloned food has been on the market far prior to that declaration? 3. Why does the Union of Concerned Scientists question the ability of the FDA to regulate cloned food in the biotech industry? Questions of Food Production 4. Why is the FDA standard of “normally produced meat and milk” an inadequate one for judging cloned meat and milk? We will work to answer these and many other questions that concern you about cloned food in the weeks and months to come. In the meantime… eat safely!
ViaGen (http://www.viagen.com/) Trans Ova Genetics (http://www.transova.com/) iii Hughlett, M. (2008, January 13). Will cloned meat sell? – Despite the initial safety concerns by food regulators in the U.S. and Europe, most consumers remain apprehensive of embracing cloned products in their diets. Chicago Tribune, Business p. 1. iv Lambrinidou, Y. (2008, January 18). Are clones safe food? The Washington Post, p. A18.