As a staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety, I was appalled that the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved cloned animals for use in our food today. I have to ask, “who does our federal government protect? How can they allow this into the food system without facts showing it is safe and without any labeling or public disclosure requirements?” As a Jew, it makes me ask other questions: “Will this be allowed in kosher milk? Kosher meat? What do our rabbis think? What about the eco-kosher movement?”
FDA Approves Cloned Animals for Our Food
Today’s FDA decision was a long-awaited regulatory assessment of cloned animals, proclaiming that food from cloned animals are just as safe as food from naturally raised animals. (See FDA on Cloning) And while the FDA did not address whether cloned milk and meat is kosher, they did decide today that it is safe for Americans to eat.
The FDA made this decision in the worst way possible. FDA based its decision on an incomplete and flawed review that relies on studies supplied by cloning companies that want to force this cloning technology on American consumers. Biotechnology companies such as ViaGen provided FDA with the “science” in this case. There are no peer reviewed studies showing that this stuff is safe for us to eat.
Cloned Animals Not Proven to Be Safe
While the FDA claimed today that cloned food is safe, the scientific community is far from reaching consensus about the safety of cloning. For example, Ian Wilmut, the lead scientist responsible for creating Dolly (the first cloned animal) in 1997, has warned that slight imbalances in a clone’s hormones, protein, or fat levels can compromise the safety of a clone’s meat or milk. While the biotechnology industry has proclaimed the safety of its cloned food products, few food safety studies have been conducted. MIT’s Rudolph Jaenisch, one of the world’s leading cloning scientist, stated in an article in 2006 that: “You cannot make normal clones. The ones that survive will just be less abnormal than the ones that die early. There has been no progress—none—in the last six years in making cloning more safe.” Furthermore, a 2004 National Academy of Sciences study concluded that small sample sizes, limited health and production data, and rapidly changing cloning protocols make it impossible to draw conclusions about the safety of food from cloned animals.
The FDA also completely failed to address critical health issues. For example, high doses of hormones and antibiotics used in cloning present another significant safety concern. Host mothers are often given massive doses of hormones and their sickly offspring are often treated with high levels of antibiotics and other veterinary drugs to increase their chances of survival. The commercialization of cloning would likely increase hormones and drugs in the human food supply, but FDA failed to explore what affect this would have on us.
Cloning Creates Animal Welfare Concerns
Additionally, The FDA is completely ignored a host of animal welfare issues. Animal cloning represents a fundamental change in our relationship with animals. Instead of humans assisting or acting as midwives in animal reproduction, cloning allows humans to become wholesale creators of genetic “replicas” of existing animals.
Problems associated with cloning include: 1) Pre-Natal Failures: Only a small percentage of cloned pregnancies result in live births. A 2007 study found that animal cloning failure rates remain as high as 90 percent; 2) Surrogate (Host) Suffering: “Host mothers” face grave suffering, much of which is caused by inordinately high rates of spontaneous abortions. Cloning often leads to a condition known as “large-offspring syndrome,” whereby cloned offspring grow abnormally large, causing early-term and stressful caesarian deliveries.4 In one cattle cloning project, 3 out of 12 surrogate mothers died during pregnancy; 3) Post-Natal Animal Health: Most cloned animals born on a farm, outside a veterinary hospital, have little chance of surviving. Those animals that manage to survive until birth are likely to suffer a wide range of health defects and deformities including: enlarged tongues; squashed faces; intestinal blockages; immune deficiencies; diabetes; high rates of heart and lung damage; kidney failure; and brain abnormalities.
To produce clones, scientists grow copies of cells from the original animal in a lab dish, and then extract genetic material. The DNA from the animal to be cloned is inserted into an egg whose nucleus has been removed, and the resulting embryo is implanted in an animal that will serve as the clone’s surrogate mother.
The American Public, Religious Leaders Reject Cloning
Overwhelmingly, the public has cried out that this is not the way to bring food from animals to the table. Last year, Americans sent over 30,000 comments to the FDA – clearly indicating that they do not want the stuff, because the FDA cannot prove it’s safe for humans. And certainly, FDA didn’t address the ethical questions.
Also, more than 200 U.S. religious leaders have announced their opposition to patenting animal genes, tissue, organs, and organisms, due to their belief that genetic manipulation and life patenting shifts authorship of life from God to scientists and lab-technicians.
Animal cloners have also acknowledged that the technology will likely lead to human cloning attempts, despite the safety and ethical issues that surround such risky experiments. In fact, the two leading animal cloning companies (ViaGen and Cyagra) were created by the companies most involved in human embryo cloning experiments.
Cloning – More Corporate Food Control
Cloning also poses an important question of corporate food control. Cloning will increase the hold that a few large corporations already have on our food supply. The technology benefits corporate factory farms at the expense of family farmers, who are less likely to afford the costly technology. Attempts to patent cloned offspring raise concerns that such patents will be used to control entire breeds. Monsanto, the leading producer of genetically engineered crops, has already filed global patents for the offspring derived from its pig breeding technology in an attempt to extend its patent beyond the reproductive technology to include an animal’s genes and its offspring. The leading animal cloning company, ViaGen, has contracted with the world’s leading pork producer, Smithfield Foods, to explore using cloned pigs in its products. As cloning gains a foothold in the industrial food system, we can expect this trend to spread to cattle, sheep and other animals.
Is Cloning Kosher?
So the question we have before us as a Jewish community – is meat from cloned animals kosher? Is it kosher if it’s slaughtered properly? Do we consider the broader human health and animal welfare concerns? Do we consider corporate consolidation of the meat and milk supply in this inquiry? Where does the Jewish community stand on cloning? Where do you stand on cloning?
I for one stand with the 30,000 Americans who have said no. I won’t eat this stuff. At the very least, label it so I can avoid it – so I can vote with my dollars. But I think given what I know about cloning, the lack of sound science and the corporate motivations behind it, I say it should not be brought into our food system?
I would love to hear your views on these critical issues. For more information, and to support the Cloned Food Labeling Act: click here.
[All of the factual information for this post is taken from Food Safety Fact Sheet, “Cloned Food: Coming to a Supermarket Near You?