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Ben & Jerry's stunt highlights concern over clones in food chain

By Jess Halliday , 01-Apr-2009
Last updated on 01-Apr-2009 at 18:07 GMT

Ben & Jerry’s has fessed up to creating an online presence for a fictitious company selling cloned milk as a publicity stunt, as campaigners believe that the offspring of cloned animals have already entered the food chain.

In January 2008 the FDA issued its scientific conclusion that meat and milk from cloned cows, pigs and goats and their offspring are safe, a decision that effectively made it legal for such produce to enter the food chain. As some sellers of bull semen have been offering semen from cloned dairy cows to the market, campaigners assume that milk from clones’ offspring is already in the food chain – but that it may not be fully traceable.

Ice-cream firm Ben & Jerry’s, one of a number of firms that have pledged not to use produce from cloned animals, today unveiled a scheme to build awareness of cloning amongst Americans who are not aware of the legal situation, and who may wish not to consume produce from clones.

It launched a website for a fictitious company called Cyclone Dairy last month, at www.cyclonedairy.com . It also conducted street sampling in Manhattan. In April Fool’s tradition, it today revealed that the company is a fake, and the website invites visitors to join a campaign asking US Congress to implement a DNA-based tracking system, tied to the pedigree of animals.

According to Jaydee Hanson, policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, which is supporting Ben & Jerry’s in the initiative, such a system would enable companies that have pledged not to use cloned produce to be sure they avoid it.

Semen for sale

Asked whether milk from cloned animals is already present in the US food chain, Hansen told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “We do know that a number of bull semen sellers, including sellers of dairy cow semen, have been selling cloned bull semen for at least eight months.

“Our assumption is that because they have been selling, there have been offspring in the system… If they are advertising this, I presume that people are buying.”

Indeed in February one cloning firm, Bovance, publicly announced the sale of an unborn calf of a clone for $65,000 at auction.

He said that cloning companies have proposed RFID tagging of the offspring of clones up to the point of slaughter – but post-slaughter the meat looks like any other meat, and milk from clone offspring looks like any other milk, too.

Without a DNA-based tracking system, companies do not have good tools at their disposal to ensure that they do not inadvertently buy cloned produce.

Clone concerns

Despite the FDA’s confidence in that cloning does not present a food safety issue, those opposing the new technology are not convinced. According to the Center for Safety, defects in clones are common, and even small imbalances in clones could lead to hidden problems in clones' milk or meat.

However the FDA did not evaluate moral, ethical or religious concerns over cloning. In the immediate aftermath of the FDA’s decision last year Tracie Letterman, executive director of American Anti-Vivisection Society, said:

"The FDA has admitted that it does not evaluate the moral, ethical, or religious concerns with animal cloning. To protect the interests of consumers and animals alike, these issues need to be factored into any decision, as they are in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere around the world."

Julie Janovsky, Farm Sanctuary's director of campaigns, called cloning “a scientifically unsound and ethically challenged technology that has extremely disturbing welfare implications for animals."

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