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Of consuming interest

Burgers and shakes from cloned cattle have been ruled safe. 'Clone free' labels will help the queasy.

January 19, 2008

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has determined that milk and meat from cloned cattle, pigs and goats is safe to eat, opening the way for a new generation of perfectly marbled beef or exceptionally lean pork. Clones are costly to produce, however, so it's unlikely that a prize bull with dynastic DNA will wind up as bologna. It's the offspring of clones that most likely will be fated for consumption.

The FDA will not require labeling on food from clones or their progeny, on the grounds that it's no different from that derived from conventionally bred animals. Food producers, however, can voluntarily label their wares "clone free" if the claim is true. That's a provision we support.

Despite the growing body of research that says cloned food is safe, some Americans -- not to mention many Asians and Europeans -- remain skeptical, if not downright queasy, about the prospect of eating, say, an immaculately conceived hamburger from a steer that's an identical twin of its grandfather. But reproductive contortions already are essential to the birth of a Whopper: in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, embryo transfer, almost anything but actual mating.

The FDA also has issued guidelines and standards to be used by farmers, livestock breeders and scientists. These safeguards, though well-intentioned, are not likely to mollify animal-rights groups opposed to cloning on a number of fronts. Some protest, for instance, that cloning is a cruel form of breeding, producing a significant number of sickly animals condemned to brief lives of misery. (The FDA maintains only that these unhealthy animals can safely be kept from the food supply.)

After placing a moratorium on cloned food in 2001, the FDA now joins the European Food Safety Authority and regulatory agencies in Australia and New Zealand in declaring that cloning does not render meat and milk unfit to consume. But cloning will understandably continue to inspire uneasiness. Some will not accept the FDA's assurances that "Frankenfood" is safe, while others will continue to register ethical and religious objections. For those who harbor health concerns or moral qualms, voluntary labeling provides a comforting choice.

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