Cloned meat is safe – and the peanut gallery explodes

Posted on January 17, 2008

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The following rationales are valid for not wanting to eat meat from cloned animals: eating cloned meat makes you go “ewwww”; you think cloning is “playing God”; you find cloning for food an unethical use of the technology; you think cloned meat should be labeled; you think genetic engineering of food is wrong; you’re a vegetarian; you consider the technology is unethical from an animal welfare standpoint.

The following is not: “the meat isn’t safe.”

When I first heard about the FDA ruling, I was not at all surprised. After all, clones are nearly genetically identical to their “parent,” and so their tissues would naturally be identical to their parent’s as well. So long as the parent was edible, the clone would be too. This is, after all, the very definition of a clone: “an individual grown from a single somatic cell or cell nucleus and genetically identical to it”. And it takes no more than a middle school science background and a little logic to understand that if the genes for a cow produced edible meat in one animal, those exact same genes in a cloned cow would also produce edible meat.

If the FDA had found that cloned meat wasn’t safe, I would have raised an eyebrow and wondered if they’d be bought off by some animal rights outfit.

But in the few days since the FDA announcement, the vast majority of the criticism I’ve seen leveled at the FDA is based on how the meat can’t possibly be safe for human consumption. It’s the same meat – so long as the genes are identical to the parent, there is no difference in the enzymes created by the genes, the proteins created by the genes, the cellular membranes and organelles created by the genes – none.

The only explanation that fits for this outcry is something that we’ve bemoaned here at S&R before: the ignorance of the public and of journalists regarding science, partly as a result of rampantly anti-science movements in education and in our government.

I would understand the safety concerns of cloning critics if we were talking about a true genetically modified organism (GMO) here, but we’re not. The clone is simply a copy, with no more errors in than likely occurs in nature anyway. It’s not like making a cat that glows in the dark, beef that tastes like salmon, or inserting a trichinosis-resistant fungus gene to pig chromosomes – every one of those examples would give me pause about the safety of the meat (OK – not the cat). But not an actual clone, and it’s safety of the actual clone that was verified by the FDA.

If you want to lobby Congress to change the rules and require labeling of cloned meat, go for it. I for one will welcome your efforts, and might even join in. But please, try to avoid using the scientifically invalid safety concern as your rationale.

Other links:
CBS News
BBC
Center for Food Safety
European Food Safety Authority
The Economist
BusinessWeek
National Farmers Union
Farm Sanctuary

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