Do moms know best?
What I'm talking about, of course, is the Food and Drug Administration's announcement prior to the New Year regarding animal cloning. During the last few days of 2006, the FDA issued three documents on the safety of animal cloning, stating that cloned meat is safe to eat and milk from cloned farm animals is safe to drink.
It's always fun to be the chief editor of a food magazine at a time like this. And yet, after weeks of reading every available piece of information on the topic, I found myself unable to form a conclusive opinion (which is somewhat problematic when trying to write a column). So I did what most people do when they don't know what to do--I called mom. Having raised five children, I consider my mom a well-informed consumer, and somewhat of a supermarket expert.
Her response was in line with what most consumers are probably thinking. She does not feel she knows enough about cloned products to be certain of their safety, despite what the FDA says. And moms don't take any chances when it comes to feeding their families. If given the option, mom would still opt for the "normal" beef and milk products.
But the FDA asserts that after years of studies, it found nothing to indicate that milk, beef or pork produced by cloned animals is in any way different from the same products produced by naturally bred animals. And because the FDA has found that cloned products are nutritionally equivalent to non-cloned products, they are not obligated to require any special labeling. Essentially, consumers will have no idea if they are eating cloned animals or naturally bred animals.
Supporters promise that livestock cloning will lead to healthier animals and better quality products. Only the best of the best will be replicated, producing generations of "Super Cows." And, because of the cost to clone an animal (around $15,000) it is unlikely that the public will ever consume a clone--only its offspring.
But as consumers, we thrive on our right to choose. Consumer groups are up in arms over the fact that the public won't know what they are eating. They claim the FDA's research is insufficient, and that its findings were influenced by political pressures and money-hungry biotech companies.
The FDA bases its decisions on science. But can a decision with so many moral and ethical attachments be made based solely on scientific evidence? Even if public sensitivities are unscientific and stem mostly from misperceptions and lack of information, does that make them any less viable? After all, how valuable can a scientific breakthrough be if consumers aren't buying it?
The FDA has instituted a 90-day comment period, during which all of these concerns will undoubtedly be raised. Clearly they have a daunting task ahead of them, as will the food industry in general. This is not something that will be finalized overnight. In the meantime, however, this gives consumers (including all the rooms) time to educate themselves and become more comfortable with what might be just around the corner.
Karen Langhauser, Editor-in-Chief