I have written in the past on the issue of animal cloning and the food supply (See – Send in the Clones, October 17, 2006) but the recent action by FDA putting out a issues drafts on animal cloning means further commentary. The question of whether or not the food is safe may not be as simple as it seems and the issues associated with it bear further scrutiny, particularly when it comes to the image of the FDA.
For the most part, though there have been notable exceptions, the FDA strives to make its decisions based on a scientific approach of assessing risk and benefit. In an examination of cloning, they have determined that there is little, if any, risk to consumers. Manufacturers feel that there is distinct benefit to them. But in this case, the FDA needs to consider more.
While assessing risk, it may be about the science, but labeling is not based strictly on science. Labeling is also based on giving people information they need in order to make an informed choice. That is why there are rules regarding the contents and, more to the point, about whether something is "organic". The information is there because the public wants it.
A December 2006 Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology Poll demonstrated that 64% of Americans said that they are not comfortable with animal cloning. Consumer groups argue that those kind of numbers indicate a need for labeling. But the FDA position, as of now, is that labeling is not necessary.
The reputation of the FDA has suffered greatly and as a consequence, public confidence in the agency has waned. That should indicate that the agency needs to take steps that restore that public confidence, not challenge it. Why not label the foods and let the market decide? It is bad enough that the FDA has seen its once golden reputation for protecting public safety in drugs come into question – why squander the food side of the equation? Food, after all, unlike drugs, is something absolutely everyone ingests.
There is another side effect of this decision to not require a "cloned" label. It opens the way for some manufacturers to offer a "new" line of products that are "clone-free", perhaps at a premium price.
There are a large number of documents associated with the study of cloned animals which the FDA has posted for your review at "A Risk-Based Approach to Evaluate Clones and Their Progeny".
If you are so inclined, you can submit a comment to the FDA in the docket to express yourself on the issue of cloning.