Cloned Meat: Dangerous? Or Delicious?

Ever since the successful cloning of a mammal, Dolly the sheep, cloning has been a hot and controversial topic.  In addition to the moral and ethical issues with cloning, most of the recent focus has been on whether it’s safe to use the offspring of cloned animals as a food source.  Animals like pigs and cows are mostly cloned with the purpose of using their genetic traits for more breeding.  In dairy industries, prize bulls and cows are cloned to keep reproducing, without being limited by natural lifespan.  If a cow is continuously cloned, she technically has the potential to live forever.  As clarification, I’d like to point out that it’s unlikely that we will be eating the actual cloned animals any time in the near future because they’re so expensive to create. However, once the cloned animal can no longer reproduce or function the way it was originally intended, it’s very likely that it will be killed and enter the meat market.  But while we are still able to avoid the meat of actual cloned pigs or cows for a little while longer, the meat and milk products coming from the offspring of cloned animals have already been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe to eat.  This has stirred much controversy as recent surveys have shown that over 60% of people polled said they objected to buying products from cloned animals.  Much of this objection stems from the lack of safety and health information on meat or by-products (like eggs or milk) from cloned offspring.

Because the debate on eating products from cloned offspring is only a few years old, there hasn’t been sufficient time or research dedicated to determining whether there are any negative effects in the long term. Scientists argue that the public shouldn’t worry because the offspring aren’t considered clones since their cloned parents are bred naturally and not through science or technology.  They’ve also claimed that because complete genetic material from the animals is copied and not spliced or modified in any way, these sources of food should be safe for human consumption.  Comparisons have been done on cloned milk and non-cloned milk in labs, with scientists reiterating that there is no difference.  My problem with this is again, the lack of long-term research on safety issues.  There may also be some problems within FDA standards on cloned animals.  The FDA deems the animal healthy if it survives birth and the first 6 months of its life.  However, studies have shown that major health problems may not emerge until a few years later.  For example, Dolly the sheep had to be euthanized at age 6 (although normal sheep usually live to age 12 or 13) due to arthritis and lung issues.  Although this was about 10 years ago and it should be assumed that we’ve made great strides in cloning, the current success rate of cloning is still under 10%.

Aside from issues of sickness and needing more antibiotics than the average animal, clones are often born deformed or suffer from abnormalities.  Scientists are testing for abnormalities in cloned animals, but it’s complicated because there may be abnormalities that they don’t know exist and therefore are unable to test for.  If clones are created simply for reproduction to pass on their genes, then I think this is extremely dangerous.  Since scientists aren’t always able to find abnormalities, then it’s very likely that the clone parents will pass down defected genetic material to their offspring.  Humans will then unfortunately eat products from problematic animals.  Even the FDA’s veterinary medicinal advisory panel warned of the lack of sufficient research on safety, but the FDA went forward to announce that these products are safe for us to eat.

The FDA recently admitted meat from offspring of cloned animals may already be in our food supply.  This is because there is no monitoring of this meat, and cloned meat is not required to be labeled in supermarkets since it’s safe.  This is disheartening because many people have written to the FDA and outright rejected to eating these products, but the FDA went ahead and okayed the placement of these products in our food system.  Some consumers are frustrated and see this as a betrayal since the FDA is supposed to keep citizens safe.  Currently the FDA is unwilling to stand down on the issue because to label, monitor and trace all the products coming from cloned offspring will be very expensive and tedious.

I disagree with cloning of animals because I have issues with their welfare, due to the fact that host mothers and clones often suffer.  Problems with carrying the clone or difficult birth are not unusual, and some even die during the birthing process only to birth a clone with defects.  However, I also can acknowledge that scientists will not stop creating clones anytime soon (if at all) for the sake of research.  But then I ask, with such a low percentage of successful cloning attempts, should cloning still be considered an integral process of scientific research?  Nevertheless, I would advocate for the FDA to require that all meat and byproducts from cloned offspring be labeled.  Tracking and monitoring of these types of products will be easy to do once they’re labeled, and this would also give opportunity to study whether or not there are any harmful effects of eating products from cloned offspring.  If there’s labeling and access to information, then the public can make their own decisions on whether to buy the products or avoid them.  I think this would put consumers at ease and help provide definitive answers.

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2 comments

    • Julia on 5 July, 2011 at 2:59 pm
    • Reply

    Interesting. I feel like our hunger for meat has incentivized many scientists to look for the quickest, cheapest and most profitable ways to produce meat. Nowadays we manipulate so much what we eat because our wants have increased so much. This post goes along the lines of the problems around GMO’s.
    There is also the option of bioengineered meat. As impressive, because it doesn’t even involve animals. You may find it interesting
    http://www.aboutmyplanet.com/green-news/bioengineered-meat-could-help-to-stave-off-food-crisis/

    1. Thanks for your comment, Julia. All this definitely has to do with our wish to look for food sources that are cheap, fast and easy. I did read similar articles on engineered meat and I read something else on Frankenfish, which is engineered salmon. Read it here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2010/09/22/130040472/a-tale-of-frankenfish-will-genetically-modified-salmon-hit-the-stores

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