Cloning for Food Only Multiplies Problems

Every poll taken on the issue indicates that American consumers do not want cloned animals and their offspring in the food supply, and for good reason. The potential benefits of food animal cloning are marginal at best and far outweighed by the risks and concerns about the use of the technology.

Cloning, a process for producing multiple, nearly identical, copies of adult animals, cannot create desired characteristics like high milk production. Its primary use would be to accelerate the rate at which such characteristics are incorporated into dairy or beef herds. This is not much of a benefit to American agriculture, which is already hyper-productive and plagued with surpluses.

And the downsides to cloning are many.

The presence of cloned animals in our food system will threaten our export markets with products that other countries have not approved and of which they are wary.

Although adverse impacts to human health from cloned animals are unlikely, there are lingering concerns not allayed by the existing literature on the topic. More comprehensive studies, specifically designed to address food safety issues, are needed.

For animals, the failure rates of the cloning process remain unacceptably high and inevitably produce many defective and malformed animals for each apparently normal one. The technology should not go forward until the success rates are much higher than they are now.

Cloning will also exacerbate the genetic uniformity of our dairy and beef herds, making our food system more vulnerable to disease and a target for bioterrism. We need more genetic diversity in agriculture--not less.

Moreover, technical advances made in the pursuit of cloning food animals will be readily transferable to attempts at cloning humans. Opening up cloning to commercial food interests will speed the development of cloning technology, bringing us closer to the day when we must confront the ethical dilemma of a human child being cloned.

If cloning goes forward, the products should be labeled so consumers can choose to either accept or avoid them.

Despite the hoopla around the announcement, the FDA couldn't effectively regulate animal cloning if it wanted to. Except for food additives, the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act does not provide the government authority to compel premarket testing or to keep products off the market for failing regulatory reviews. FDA hopes to evade this issue by convincing consumers that cloned products will be safe and are of little concern to consumers. If that effort fails, the agency is up a regulatory creek without a paddle.

FDA confronts a similar regulatory dilemma with genetically engineered animals. In that case, the agency is regulating genetically engineered salmon under the drug laws in order to compel safety data and weigh risks against benefits before the product goes on the market. Although the drug laws provide strong regulatory authority, they are unsuitable for new foods because safety reviews are conducted behind closed doors and don't allow public participation.

The US shouldn't be confronting new technologies like genetic engineering and cloning with such a weak regulatory tool box. As we approach the 100-year anniversary of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, it's time to move that venerable old statute law into the 21st century.