Health knowledge made personal
Join this community!
› Share page:
Search posts:

Cloned and Genetically Modified Foods

Posted Sep 07 2008 8:10pm
The little tempest in a teapot about labeling cloned foods is similar to the one over genetically modified food. I think we're arguing over the wrong thing and not insisting enough about the right to know. It's doubtful there are any safety issues. It's just a consumer's right to decide what industries and practices to support.

First Cato reminds us that the food is not what's cloned, it's the animals (duh... I think I will stop reading these guys; I may be somewhat of a libertarian, but I'm not a quack) and that cloning is not the same thing as genetically modifying foodstuffs. The difference is lost on anyone who identifies genetic manipulation as the "thing" they object to. It's sort of like saying eugenics is not genetically modifying humanity, since we don't directly manipulate the genes. [I know it's an old article, but it came up on my research.]

Apparently House Representative Rosa DeLauro had cow over cloned meats and introduced HR992: The Cloned Foods Act to go along with s414: Cloned Food Labeling Act. Thisputs Steven Pitts in the awkward position of defending the FDA and me in the equally awkward position of not having a beef with him.

Here are intelligent comments and reportage from Slate: "The conventional food we eat is already unsafe, so clones are no worse;" the NYT: "In theory, the procedure can produce meatier cows or pigs that are better able to resist diseases. In practice, the process produces a relatively high proportion of deformed animals that cannot survive, although scientists with the European Food Safety Agency said such rates were likely to decline as the technology improved;" the Washington Post: "While more complete research is needed on this technology, there is still an underlying objection from consumers based on ethical and animal welfare concerns;" as well as opinions from the European Food Safety Agency and The Center for Food Safety.

Eye on FDA has been consistently negative, here and here and here. Mark Senak makes the thoughtful comment that:

This is one debate, like the irradiation of foods and use of growth hormones in cattle, that one can expect to see continue for many years to come and where the science discussed has moved faster than the social context for the debate.

But I will go one further. The hypothesis that cloned meat is any different than what we normally raise is patently absurd and only deserve a superficial verification of nutritional composition. I feel the same about genetically modified foods. I cannot believe that there is anything that different about modifying the genes of corn in a lab as compared to what Mendel did in his garden eons ago. I say this knowing full well that cloned animals are more likely to suffer malformations and certain illnesses.

In my mind the real risk is one which cannot possibly be tested. Look for the unexpected, unforeseen possibilities that no one is considering; at least not in the press. What could the consequence be for an ecosystem in which genetic modifications are made with the rapidity that gene technology makes possible? These genes are released outside of the laboratory, where they interact with the rest of nature in ways that cannot be conceived or understood. There are limits to our understanding of the complexity of natural environments. This is one of the things we don't know we don't know (as opposed to the things we know we don't know... no this is not about Rumsfeld, but an actual, real unknown.)

We are modifying that natural gene pool at an unprecedented pace, and it's definitely out of the lab. All agriculture is based on genetic modification through the use of breeding and husbandry. Ain't no difference between that and what goes on in the lab, except it's faster now. And the birds and the winds are spreading genetically modified seeds to all four corners of this dear planet of ours and we have not even the sense to ask if there is a danger there. Animal genes are less likely to interact with the wild, but I am no farmer and judging from the difficulty of keeping human beings from mixing their genetic material indiscriminately, I somehow suspect there's loopholes in farming too. The mule may be a good example.

Our food is shot up with antibiotics and steroids and I'm still not convinced that alien slab of pale flesh is really chicken... sure doesn't taste like a real one anyway. I sometimes like to buy organic, but when my wife found out it could mean manure instead of chemicals, she goes out of her way to avoid it. No cow poop in our veggies! I reviewed an article or two, but it doesn't tell me what happens when a human being consumes food raised one way or another for 25 years or more.

Somehow I don't think safety is the issue. We can no more assure the safety of our food supply than we can guarantee a bus won't fall off an overpass tomorrow and land on your car on your way to work. But we should still get the chance to choose. Ninety percent of us won't understand the label anyway, so the industry's fear is misplaced.

Information never killed anyone, nor did it hurt an industry. Hiding information hurts the industries involved, as it raises the issue of a cover-up and spurs the imagination to see conspiracies everywhere. Keep this up and Mrs. Ammon is threatening no more cow at all! Imagine a vegetarian America growing it's own veggies on rooftops and home greenhouses across the country.

Remarkably, USDA has weighed in against cloned foods, as reported in the Post this morning.
Bruce I. Knight, the USDA's undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, requested an ongoing "voluntary moratorium" to buy time for "an acceptance process" that Knight said consumers in the United States and abroad will need, "given the emotional nature of this issue."

Executives from the nation's major cattle cloning companies conceded yesterday that they have not been able to keep track of how many offspring of clones have entered the food supply, despite a years-old request by the FDA to keep them off the market pending completion of the agency's safety report.

At least one Kansas cattle producer also disclosed yesterday that he has openly sold semen from prize-winning clones to many U.S. meat producers in the past few years, and that he is certain he is not alone.

"This is a fairy tale that this technology is not being used and is not already in the food chain," said Donald Coover, a Galesburg cattleman and veterinarian who has a specialty cattle semen business. "Anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn't know what they're talking about, or they're not being honest."

Yes? And the point is?
Post a comment
Write a comment: