FDA approves Cloned Meat

The big food news of the day is that the FDA has officially approved cloned meat. From the Washington Post:

A long-awaited final report from the Food and Drug Administration concludes that foods from healthy cloned animals and their offspring are as safe as those from ordinary animals, effectively removing the last U.S. regulatory barrier to the marketing of meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs and goats.

Since the marketplace has not been clamoring for cloned meat, one suspects that the quick turn around on this process was due in large part from the various companies and their respective lobbying groups who wanted to get this done.

I remain skeptical, for a variety of reasons, about the viability of cloned meat in the supermarket. I suspect that the meat itself could be fine, depending upon how the cloned animal was cared for. But my suspicion is that this is being pushed by those who treat animals as commodities rather than, y’know, animals. So if cloned animals are to be primarily found in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s) don’t expect top grade meat.

Bonnie, over at the Ethicurean has noted some of the same concerns that arise from the study’s quick turn around:

Weiss reports that the FDA’s 968-page risk assessment includes hundreds of pages of raw data. I can’t wait to read all of it and be reassured. Especially since in the end, as Weiss puts it, “agency scientists decided to use 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.”

It’s like pornography. They know it when they see it.

That standard was effective when we were dealing with animals that had been bred and fed naturally, not scientifically. I hate to be the one to point out that plenty of “mad” cows looked normal enough to be fed to people, giving them Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. And that we still don’t understand the particles called “prions” that caused CJD or bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

This entire study gives me the feeling that they arrived at their conclusions first, and then went out in search of the data that supported their conclusion. The fact that the first public face they put on this report turns out to be little more than the FDA saying “Well, dern it, they didn’t look sick” doesn’t really go a long way to inspire confidence.

The next issue would be the selling of cloned meat and seeing if the public will put aside their moral and ethical concerns and eat the cloned meat. My suspicion is that this will be a bit of a tough sell, especially since the meat industries haven’t had the best of public relations of late. But I suspect sometime in the future we’ll see reports on cloned meat being “generally regarded as safe”, which is industry code for “We never really got around to fully testing the meat for it’s susceptibility for disease”.

The one item I did find heartening was the distinction made between cloned animals and gene altered animals. If the Washington Post is to be believed, the FDA has said “it will not approve gene-altered animals as food without additional tests for safety”. From my limited Biochemistry -deficient viewpoint, it seems as if the “gene-altered” mountain should be a much taller one to climb. It’s good to see that the FDA recognizes at least this much.