Dear EarthTalk: What’s the story with animal cloning? Is the meat industry really cloning animals now to “beef up” production?
—Frank DeFazio, Sudbury, MA
Cloning has been controversial ever since Scottish scientists announced in 1996 that they had cloned their first mammal, a sheep they named Dolly. While Dolly lived a painful, arthritic life and died prematurely, possibly due to the imperfections of cloning, industry nonetheless began seeking out ways to capitalize on the new technology. Meanwhile, critics bemoan cloning as immoral and a potential health and safety risk, given the as-yet-unknown consequences of eating foods generated in this way.
In January 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of cloned animals and their offspring for food, despite fierce opposition from animal welfare and consumer advocacy groups, environmental organizations, some members of Congress, and many consumers.
“Our evaluation is that the food from cloned animals is as safe as the food we eat every day,” said Stephen Sundlof, the FDA’s chief of veterinary medicine. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has asked that producers withhold cloned animals, but not their offspring, from the food supply while farmers, processors, grocery stores and restaurants decide how they will respond to the FDA’s landmark decision.