Survey shows 89% of consumers want labels on cloned meat, milk

January 21, 2008

Consumers Union is calling on Congress to require tracking and labeling of milk and meat from cloned animals in response to the Food and Drug Administration’s assessment that food from cloned animals is safe for consumption.

“The FDA’s own data show that a large proportion of cloned animals do not make it to their first birthday. Many fail to survive gestation, and others have birth defects such as squashed faces, deformed limbs, and immune deficiencies. Consumers have a right to choose whether they eat milk and meat from clones,” said Michael Hansen, PHD, Senior Scientist with Consumers Union.

“It should be mandatory for clones and their offspring to be tracked and their products labeled in the supermarket,” Hansen said. “If cloning were a new animal drug, its use would be prohibited, since animal drugs must be safe for animals and well as humans. But because cloning is a new reproductive technology, there is no law requiring it to be safe for animals.”

“Having our food come from healthy animals helps the food to be safe,” Hansen said. “There is simply too little data for consumers to be completely confident that eating cloned food is safe.”

A Consumers Union national poll conducted in mid-2007 found that 89 percent of consumers want cloned food to be labeled. The poll also found that 69 percent of respondents were concerned about eating milk or meat from cloned animals.

Legislation to require labeling of cloned milk and meat has been introduced into Congress by Senator Barbara Mikulski and by Representative Rosa DeLauro. Legislation introduced in California by State Senator Carole Migden last year, which passed the legislature but was vetoed by the Governor, will be introduced again this session.

Although the industry indicates that it has so far created only about 600 clones, more will be on the way now that FDA has passed on their safety as food.

Even if they are used for breeding, they are likely to enter the food supply at some point. Cows that have completed their useful life either as milk producers or breeders generally are processed for beef burger. “I don’t think they will be buried in the back yard,” says Hansen.

A National Academy of Sciences study indicated a concern that if clones are sickly, they might be more likely to carry bacteria that could infect people. Such bacteria include salmonella and e.coli 0157:H7. The FDA risk assessment acknowledged it had no data on this question.

Consumers Union supports labeling of both clones and their first and second generation offspring.

FDA’s decision

It took the FDA seven years to decide it could not find any reason to prohibit the use of cloned animals for food.

According to a summary of the final report posted on the FDA Web site, the government is not advocating or requiring any special labeling for products from cloned animals. Left unclear is when a voluntary moratorium on the use of cloned animals will be lifted.

More than 30,000 people — ranging from consumers to industry trade organizations — filed comments with the FDA on the proposed lifting of the moratorium. Many lawmakers also expressed reservations, with Congress passing a measure urging the FDA to carry out more studies before making its decision.

The agency, apparently, saw little reason for further study.

Safe to eat?

“The FDA has concluded that meat and milk from clones of cattle, swine and goats, and the offspring of clones from any species traditionally consumed as food, are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals,” the FDA concluded in its report.

But the report appeared to be cause for concern among dairy processors, who fear a consumer backlash against dairy products that might contain milk from cloned animals. Connie Tipton, President and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, said the FDA needs to take its time on the matter.

“Nothing is more important to milk processors than the trust people have in milk and milk products,” Tipton said. “That is why we urge the FDA to listen to the more than 30,000 comments the agency has received over the last year and take the time to respond to their comments and concerns before allowing milk from cloned cows into the food supply.”

By approving a “niche technology” too soon, Tipton argues, the government agency risks unintended negative economic, trade and public health impacts.

Consumer groups also appear overwhelmingly against allowing cloned animal products into the food supply. Last month when the Senate added language to the Fall Bill instructing the FDA to slow down on the issue, Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety, applauded the move.

“The FDA’s flawed and cavalier approach to cloned food and its potential impacts called for a truly rigorous scientific assessment,” Mendelson said. “At a time when the FDA has repeatedly failed the public, this amendment will ensure that the American consumer is considered before any special interest.”

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