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Meat and Milk from Cloned Animals:
Safety Not the Issue
By Dr. Michael W. Fox
My concerns over people eating meat and dairy products from cloned animals have nothing to do with any foreseeable risk to consumers. The inherent danger of genetic uniformity in cloned herds selected for production traits that are already linked with various production-related health and welfare problems is a serious ethical issue. Also greater genetic uniformity can mean significant economic losses from diseases that become contagious when there is a fatal combination of genetic susceptibility and uniformity. The inherent propagation, by accident or design, of unhealthy traits in cloned and genetically engineered breeds which would result in disease, miscarriages, birth defects etc, have been well documented in the scientific literature. The use of such biotechnology should be highly restricted for humane and ethical reasons, and not misused simply to boost the profits of the livestock sector of the food industry. The treatment and ultimate fate of surrogate and donor cattle and other farmed animals used as mere instruments of biotechnology call for the most rigorous humane standards and their effective enforcement by the USDA.
Some of the first farmed animals in non-pharmaceutical production to be cloned have been high-yielding dairy cows. Since animal bioscientists from the US and Japan have collaboratively succeeded in genetically engineered cattle to be resistant to BSE---mad cow disease—animals like theirs may well be the first to be vigorously propagated through artificial insemination and cloning technology. Regardless, BSE was essentially a human-created disease following the livestock industry practice of recycling dead animals back into the food chain in livestock feed.
Health and environmental experts, conservationists and economists are calling for a reduction in livestock numbers globally, and for more sustainable, organic and ecological farming practices, including more humane and 'free range' animal production methods. I see no place for cloned livestock and agricultural bioengineering in this more viable future for agriculture. Industrial 'agribusiness' seeks to convince consumers, with the backing of the FDA, that meat and milk from cloned animals are safe to eat. Safety is not the issue. An FDA decision to permit the consumption of produce from genetically engineered and cloned animals, and refusing to label same to inform consumers, (just as they refused to label genetically engineered plant-based foods, where safety is an issue), should be a big boost to the organically certified producers and retailers. This is because USDA CERTIFIED ORGANIC on their produce means no ingredients are from bioengineered crops or animals.
Does not some language need to be added to the National Organics Standards to preclude some opportunists in the future from putting the Organic label on meat and dairy products from cloned animals, especially since such animals could qualify under existing standards? If so, what language? I would opt for the right to label negatively---that the FDA abhors-- and the list gets longer every decade-- NO GMO's (genetically modified organisms), NO BGH (bovine growth hormone), NO IRRADIATED OR CLONE-DERIVED INGREDIENTS:--- And what of Country of Origin labeling, now that China and Wall Mart are on the verge of marketing purportedly organically grown produce?
Advocates for the creation of genetically anomalous, so called ‘transgenic’ animals, claim that this new biotechnology is simply an extension of the process of human-directed natural selection for desired genetic traits that began thousands of years ago when animals were first domesticated. Some of these ‘production’ traits, coupled with how these animals are husbanded in crowded ‘factory’ farms, are now recognized as causing a host of animal health, welfare, public health, and economic problems. Cloning such animals is yet another symptom of an increasingly dysfunctional, oligopolistic, transnational, industrial agribusiness. Transgenic farm animals are already being cloned to create flocks and herds of ‘pharm animals’, many carrying human genes that make them produce various biologics that the pharmaceutical industry seeks to profit by. Investors hope to profit also from the patents they hold on transgenic and cloned animals, just as they seek to monopolize the global market with their patented transgenic seeds. The incorporation of cloned farm animals into conventional, industrial agriculture is ethically, economically and environmentally unacceptable. This is because it is being directed primarily toward making confinement-raised farmed animals (and aquatic species on fish farms) more productive than ever. This is a myth because the industrialized factory farming of animals is not only inhumane and environmentally damaging; it is also not sustainable economically or ecologically. It is blight across most rural landscapes throughout much of the industrial world. And is, according to a recent report by the United Nation’s FAO, (Food and Agriculture Organization) the number one culprit in global warming, when coupled with the enormous global population of livestock that are creating desert wastelands from over-stocking and over-grazing in less developed countries. The Western market and unhealthy appetite for animal products as a dietary staple, that the inhumane farm animal industry promotes through government subsidies and price supports at tax payer’s expense, is now being exported to many developing countries at great cost to their natural biodiversity, traditional, sustainable farming practices, and to environmental and public health.
All reasonable people should, therefore, condemn the genetic engineering of plants and animals, and also cloning technology for non-medical, commercial ends. We should all ask what animal cloning has to do with feeding the poor and hungry, and in developing a sustainable and socially just agriculture locally and globally, to feed the starving millions of our kind, without further sacrifice of biodiversity, the Earth’s wild plant and animal species and most precious communities, notably those recognized by the UN as Global Biosphere Reserves.
All countries importing genetically engineered seeds, and foods and animal feeds derived there from, as well as meat and dairy products from cloned animals, should, for the above ethical, scientifically verifiablexx, environmental, and economic reasons, immediately boycott this market sector of agricultural and animal production biotechnology. (For example, see Allison, Latham and Steinbrecher’s damaging report entitled Transformation-induced mutations in transgenic plants: Analysis and biosafety implications. Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews-Vol. 23, 2006, p 209-230.) And cease and desist from further endeavors to develop their own animal and plant biotechnologies that are no substitute for humane, sustainable, socially just, ecologically sound and environmentally beneficial food and fiber production that includes sutainable forestry and fishing, as well as aquaculture and especially livestock production, neither intensively nor extensively, but humanely and integrated with organic farming and holistic range management that does not require the extermination of all natural predators, ‘competing’ wild herbivores, and also indigenous peoples.
For more details on this issue, see my book Killer Foods: When Scientists Manipulate Genes, Better is Not Always Best, Lyon's Press, NY, 2004, and Eating With Conscience: The Bioethics of Food, New Sage Press, Troutdale, OR, 1997.
For more articles by Dr. Fox, visit TwoBitDog.
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