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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cloned Food: What Gets Measured Matters

posted by on January 15 at 12:42 PM


The FDA just determined that food from cloned animals is safe for human consumption. What standard did they use to make that assessment? According to the Washington Post,

the same simple but effective standard used by farmers since the dawn of agriculture: If a farm animal appears in all respects to be healthy, then presume that food from that animal is safe to eat.

Feeling reassured? Consider this: Cows with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or “mad cow” disease, “appear in all respects to be healthy,” too—all respects the FDA measures, that is. That’s how they’ve ended up in our food supply. There are many aspects of food safety we simply don’t understand—BSE-causing particles called prions, for example—so I’m not convinced that a “health” assessment (which found, incidentally, that newborn cloned cows were “usually extremely overweight and have respiratory, gastrointestinal and immune system problems,” but that they “somehow” got over those problems) is enough to ensure the safety of cloned meat. In fact, most clones are kept alive with high doses of antibiotics and other medications—more veterinary drugs that will end up in our already polluted meat supply. Clones, in fact, are often born horribly disfigured and fatally diseased; although cloning proponents assure consumers that most defective clones die young, the fact is that cloning is only ten years old, and the “long-term studies” on the safety of cloned meat lasted all of three and a half months. The rush came, of course, at the behest of agribusiness companies in a hurry to make money breeding cloned animals; and since they’ve done such an awesome job running that whole factory-food system, why not fast-track cloning, too?

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Well,I WAS having a hard time committing to vegetarianism.

Posted by lauren | January 15, 2008 12:43 PM

Just think of the wonders of single-DNA wildfire cross-contaminated diseases!

Think of how great it will be to not just watch 10 percent of animals get sick from a disease, but 100 percent of all of them to literally DIE from it.

Oh my this will make Avian Bird Flu (H5N1) look like a wonderful thing ....

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 15, 2008 12:46 PM

Mmmmmmmmmm, malformed clones. Yummy.

Posted by Providence | January 15, 2008 12:47 PM

Damn!! Remember that REALLY great steak you had? Now you can have that same great steak over and over and over again!

I LOVE America!!!

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | January 15, 2008 12:48 PM

Hey, they're being fed 'patented' GM grains;
it all comes out even.

Posted by sceptic | January 15, 2008 12:56 PM

I just want tasty meat that will take at least 30 years to kill me (via clogged heart). Is that too much to ask?

Posted by Matthew | January 15, 2008 1:00 PM

Cloning animals is currently prohibitively expensive, so I wouldn't get all hot-n-bothered by this bit of news; you're not going to be buying cloned beef anytime soon.

Posted by hamburglar | January 15, 2008 1:10 PM

Remember all those mistakes that get created when creating clones and genetic hybrids? now when they ask that you kill them for being freaks of nature the meat doesn't have to go to waste.

Posted by vooodooo84 | January 15, 2008 1:11 PM

It's kind of ridiculous even in a financial sense. A monoculture leaves tremendous vulnerability to disease, which is why there are organizations dedicated to storing varieties of seeds and livestock that aren't being cultivated on a large scale, so we'll have them ready to go when (not if) a particularly virulent ergot or virus decides to wipe out all the Roundup Ready wheat in America, we won't be paying $25 for a loaf of bread, at least not for a period of years.

I mean, if I were a rancher that raised organic cattle and bred from a variety of bulls, I'd be all for this. It would mean tons more money for me. But I think big agribusiness is being shortsighted.

Posted by Gitai | January 15, 2008 1:13 PM

Reminds me of the great Rob Riggle piece on cloned steaks.

Posted by Gloria | January 15, 2008 1:13 PM

That has to be the most insane standard for food safety in history, its one step up from
>12 maggots on the meat = unsafe

Posted by vooodooo84 | January 15, 2008 1:14 PM

Seems like they'd be better off creating artificial meat. Why clone the whole animal when all you want is the steak. The artificial meat would also come with the perk of not being sentient.

Posted by kinaidos | January 15, 2008 1:15 PM

I'm suspicious of both untested food technology and food Luddism. It would probably be beneficial to require cloned meat labeling, for both consumers' and scientists' benefit, but ... what are you looking for here? They don't spontaneously get BSE, they've fed cloned milk and meat to animals without any negative effects, and the nutritional profile is essentially the same. (They did do more than just watch them in the fields to see if they looked sick, actually.)

Can we breed a cow that produces far less methane, and clone it mercilessly? Given that livestock are a significant contributor to environmental destruction, would this not be progress?

Posted by tsm | January 15, 2008 1:18 PM

I'm just waiting for the day they can clone chickens to hatch in the shape of McNuggets. That's when I'll be worried.

Posted by Hernandez | January 15, 2008 1:20 PM

@12 - I've been waiting for that too. I thought I was the only person who was enthralled, not grossed out, by the prospect of eating vat-grown meat. Tasty, and death-free!

Posted by tsm | January 15, 2008 1:21 PM

I don't feel particularly threatened by clones, and I agree with @7 & 9 about the prohibitive costs. But I'd like to know what Jonathon Golob has to say about it.

Posted by Irena | January 15, 2008 1:21 PM

Well, you can do what I do, and don't eat that meat crap.

Posted by K | January 15, 2008 1:24 PM

Well, we are basically eating cloned meat already given that there is a huge market for bull semen

Posted by JD | January 15, 2008 1:32 PM

the real bummer will come when they claim that there is no need to label meat that came from a cloned genetic line and then outlaw claiming that meat did not come from such lines.

Posted by LMSW | January 15, 2008 1:32 PM

Cloning human cells = crime against god

Cloning all other animals = delicious


Posted by stunner | January 15, 2008 1:49 PM

@18 - I thought we weren't talking about the GOP in this thread?

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 15, 2008 2:00 PM

@13 - tsm, we already do this, they're called buffalo or bison.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 15, 2008 2:43 PM

There was a great article about this in Wired a month or two ago, before the FDA approval:

Posted by Dylan | January 15, 2008 2:51 PM


Can't wait for the first "Long Pig" stand to open up on the Hill!

Posted by COMTE | January 15, 2008 3:40 PM

Well, I'm just glad we have that army of clones to protect us from Count Dooku and those no-good Separatists.

Palpatine in 2008!

Posted by Boomer in NYC | January 15, 2008 3:40 PM

@12 & @15: I'm on board. I've wanted real fake meat for years. If we could vat-grow chicken drumsticks with bones, that's be just about perfect.

Posted by Ben | January 15, 2008 4:28 PM

Apart from concern about the suffering of all the "unsuccessful" clones that die young and the problems with disease-run-amok in cloned populations, there isn't any reason to be concerned about cloned meat itself because it's just meat.

Maybe Ms. B could have spend around 20 seconds on a google search to corroborate her claim that the FDA merely "looked at" the animals to assess their safety. Maybe she could have also spent around 5 minutes learning how farm-animal cloning works. It isn't really possible for cloning to generate "dangerous" meat.

But of course, I know journalists have more important things to do than research the claims they make in their work...

Posted by kipp | January 15, 2008 5:53 PM

And people ask why I'm a vegan ...

Posted by Jo | January 15, 2008 8:31 PM

One thing I've never understood is how cloned food could possible be bad for us?

The nucleases, lipases, amylases and proteases in our digestive tract reduce the animal/plant to it's constitutent amino acids, nucleic acids, lipids and simple sugars. This basic stuff all goes into us and is synthesized into more of us...

Sure, everything doesn't get broken down precisely, but assuming clones are the same as their predecessor, if you would have eaten the uncloned predecessor, why wouldn't you eat the clone? It's the same animal (in theory).

Doesn't make any sense to me, but then the world is a place that I don't get...

Also, I note that predators in the wild almost always eat the sick and the weak first. Tigers, lions, wolves etc. don't seem to be doing too badly (but for human encroachments) for eating sick and weak prey. Why would it be any different than us?

Finally, can anyone point to a single animal that our species has ever eaten that has demonstrably harmed us?

Beef may not be best for you (in terms of heart disease), but I'm not seeing that any particular animal as food is "bad" for us. Sure, some are definitely better than others, but hey, who wants to live forever? Me, I'll take the odd tasty steak now and again.

The Wet One

Posted by wet_suit | January 15, 2008 9:31 PM

Look, wet suit, it isn't a prob if cloned food is a very small fraction of the food supply. Which just accelerates normal breeding processes and is then bred back into the normal gene pool. Where it becomes an issue is monogenetic livestock pools - entire herds of the same animal. Or same two or three animals.

Leaving aside what happens when the same DNA male breeds with the same DNA female, it creates all the conditions needed for wildfire disease contagion and lack of immunity to many more common diseases. Part of what keeps you alive when some people get sick is they're not you - they are slightly different.

This is why evolution works - our differences allow us to adapt to our conditions, over time.

Even babies are preprogrammed based on the mothers prior birth experiences and the mothers environment - if you are born during famine times, you will be preprogrammed to be more efficient.

Now, any more questions, go crack open some biology texts.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 16, 2008 10:25 AM

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