Thursday, January 24, 2008

New in the Refrigerator Case ... Cloned Meat

by Lourdes Castro

It may sound like the culinary version of Weird Science, but cloned livestock has just gotten FDA approval to be sold as food. However, the USDA has asked producers to keep cloned products out of the marketplace due to consumer fears.

Sounds contradictory.  In truth there is so much to learn and so much yet to know that its hard to make a determination – unless, of course, you are a puritan and feel cattle should be left to roam freely and procreate on their own. Neither of which happens often.

Cattle are selectively bread. Similar to an arranged marriage, bulls and cows with desired traits are put together. Now before images of cattle roaming through the pasture and bonding over grass come to mind, you should know that artificial insemination is usually the way it works. (An interesting statistic ... the US exports over $20 million of bull semen to the EU every year.)

So why clone? The argument from proponents is that while there is not a shortage of livestock, there is a shortage of consistently high quality meat and milk. Cloning will guarantee that the steak you are buying will be as flavorful and tender as the last one you purchased. Like wine, the quality of beef changes depending on nutrition (terrior), breed (grape varietal), and DNA (old vines). Cloning will guarantee quality.

It is important to note that cloning only affects the animals DNA. Hormones, antibiotic, and nutrition (grain vs grass fed) are environmental and can be added, omitted, or controlled with or without cloning.

What’s the problem with cloning? According to the FDA cloning poses no health risk to the consumer. However, the USDA is not ready to see these products in the marketplace primarily because it understands there is an “ick” factor and does not want to create havoc on the industry.
But the long-term effects on breeding have yet to be determined. What if the new breed becomes the dominant breed and then becomes vulnerable to an emerging illness? Can it be wiped out?

Due to the high price tag of cloned cattle, it is likely that the animal will be used solely for breeding.
In effect, we would be eating the offspring of cloned cattle. Which brings to question the labeling of these animals. As it stands right now, offspring of cloned animals do not have to be labeled “cloned” – because they aren’t. However, they can’t be labeled organic either.

So if you want to make sure a cloned animal or family member doesn’t make it to your kitchen table, make sure to buy organic.

To keep things in perspective, to date there are only a few hundred cattle affected by cloning versus tens of millions that are born conventionally. Optimistic predictions show cloned livestock penetrating 5% of the market if they are lucky.

This issue still has lots to sort out. And we are just beginning to acquire information. You will have to decide for yourself if you want to accept genetic engineering or not. Cloned livestock will have to go through the same process pasteurized milk, cloned grape vines, and even seedless watermelon went through.

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