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Should Clones Be Labeled?

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Food safety representatives from the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) told the European Commission in February they want a bill regulating animal cloning within a year. ENVI has insisted that meat or milk products from the offspring of clones be labeled and traceable.

Unfortunately, meat or milk from cloned animals in the US will not be labeled. Some say "is not labeled" because we are already eating it.

In 2008, the FDA ruled that products from clones and their offspring will not be labeled because they are "no different from food derived from conventionally bred animals"-the same thing that was said about rBGH-produced milk. Nevertheless, the FDA asked producers to "voluntarily keep milk and meat from clones out of the food and feed supplies until we finish assessing their safety." Key words: asked and voluntarily.

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But a 2010 demonstration in England over possible unlabeled and illegal food from clones in that country revealed that clones may already be on the American dinner plate- with US food consumers being the last to know. The BBC, while reporting on the British cloned herd, said that cloned products have been in the US food supply for two years. Who knew?

Jim McLaren, president of Scotland's National Farmers Union, concurred and told the press, "If you go to the US or Canada you will almost certainly be consuming meat and dairy products from cloned animals at every turn." Margaret Wittenberg, global vice-president of Whole Foods Market, agreed. United States customers are "oblivious" to cloned products in the food supply, she verified to the BBC. "You don't hear about it in the media. And when you do tell people about it they look at you and say 'you're kidding! They're not doing that are they? Why would they?'" Whole Foods says it bans the sale of cloned products.

When Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was asked point-blank, during a 2010 trade mission in Canada, if "cloned cows or their offspring have made it into the North American food supply,' he put no fears to rest. "I can't say today that I can answer your question in an affirmative or negative way. I don't know. What I do know is that we know all the research, all of the review of this is suggested that this is safe." So much for informed public officials.

An FDA report written in collaboration with Cyagra, a Pennsylvania-based clone company, seeks to put public fears at rest over the brave new food. Not a big surprise since Cyagra, boasts about selling clone products to US butchers (who presumably sell to customers) and about its employees regularly dining on cloned products, say British new sources.

Since the first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, was created, cattle, horses, goats, pigs, and mice have been cloned, as well as dogs and cats, a mouflon sheep, a mule, and a racing camel. In fact, cloning doesn't even make headlines anymore. But lengthy reports from both FDA and European Food Safety Authority raise questions about the safety of milk and meat from cloned animals and their offspring, their welfare and protection from suffering and the soundness of the cloning process.

Why not let food consumers vote whether they want to support such food with their forks, say US and European consumers, by simply labeling them?

Martha Rosenberg's first book, Born With a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks, and Hacks Pimp the Public Health, will be published in April by Prometheus Books.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health Read more stories by Martha Rosenberg.

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