US senators have introduced legislation designed to prevent milk and meat products from cloned livestock from receiving an organic label under the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP).
The proposed bill is a response to a possible loophole in US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations, which prohibit cloning in organic production, but which do not address the issue of the offspring of cloned animals.
Introduced last week by Senators Patrick Leahy and Herb Kohl, the legislation is designed to "to protect the integrity of organic standards".
"Any attempt to allow cloned animal products to carry the organic label would be inconsistent with the national organic standards and labeling program," said Leahy, author of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.
"Recent USDA statements unfortunately have called that fact into question. Ensuring that the organic label stands for the highest possible standards is essential to ensuring and maintaining consumer confidence in our rapidly growing organic market," he added.
Debate surrounding the issue of cloning has gathered momentum in recent months, after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it planned to approve cloning for food production later this year.
In December, the food regulatory agency released a report that claimed food from cloned animals and their offspring was as safe for human consumption as conventional food. It has opened a 90-day consultation period to gather feedback before deciding whether its proposals – including allowing cloned food to be sold with no special labeling – should become policy.
But because the issue is a new one, there still remain gaps in the regulatory network surrounding cloning.
According to the USDA, cloned animals are incompatible with the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and are prohibited under the National Organic Program regulations. However, the agency's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) says it still has to determine the organic status of the progeny of cloned animals.
AMS last month said it intends to consult with the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and "engage in rulemaking" regarding the issue.
AMS, which runs USDA's National Organic Program, and NOSB, which sets guidelines for the organic food labeling, said they intend to discuss the matter in a meeting in March.
The nation's organic industry stressed that it is against any type of cloning being associated with organics.
"Although OTA (Organic Trade Association) has not seen the recent proposed legislation and therefore cannot comment on it directly, the association is behind any legislation that would close loopholes so that the progeny of cloned animals would not be considered organic," OTA told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
But organics aside, the debate surrounding the controversial issue of cloning remains a heated one.
FDA's proposal to slip cloned products into the nation's food supply sparked an immediate backlash from public health groups as well as industry bodies unwilling to see the change unless convinced of the science.
Last October, the Center for Food Safety filed a legal petition with the FDA seeking a moratorium on foods produced from cloned animals and establishment of mandatory rules for pre-market food safety and environmental review of cloned foods.
In December, seven Senators wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt in protest over its plan to approve food from clones.
And some states, including California and Massachusetts, are considering state bills calling for labeling of cloned food. Indeed, last month San Francisco Senator Carole Migden introduced a bill that would require such labeling, in order to provide California residents with the option to choose what they consume if cloned products are ultimately approved for human consumption.