A new supply chain management program designed to track cloned livestock has been met with criticism from advocacy groups, which claim it is just another method to try to force cloned foods onto consumers.
ViaGen and TransOva Genetics, leaders in the livestock cloning industry, today said the new system will allow marketers to provide consumers with "truthful and accurate labels".
"This proactive effort, to track clones from birth to death, will be managed through a third party registry. Each time the animal moves from one owner to another, it will be documented in the national registry. It works in the same manner as process-verified food systems like the Certified Organics Program; meat certified Halal; or coffee that is labeled Fair Trade," said Mark Walton, president of ViaGen, and Dave Faber, CEO of TransOva.
The two companies claim the system is reliable because there are less than 600 clones in existence today. This will allow for easy tracking and will ensure that reliable information about the status of food products from clones, they said.
But according to CFS, the registry proposal fails to address a number of important issues.
The group's legal director Joseph Mendelson said the proposal "is simply another attempt to force cloned milk and meat on consumers and the dairy industry by giving the public phoney assurances".
CFS claimed that the fact the cloning registry is voluntary would result in an incomplete tracking system, which would allow many clones and their progeny to disperse through the food system without any tracking.
The system would also not track the sale of clones between farms, the group said.
In addition, CFS said the proposal does not address the need for mandatory acknowledgment or labeling of cloned goods, and it also continues to ignore the potential economic impacts of the move.
Such concerns surrounding the use of the controversial technology last week prompted Congress to pass a bill that would require more testing before cloning becomes an approved food production method.
The Senate's Farm Bill, which was passed last week, included an amendment calling for a rigorous review of the human health and economic impacts of introducing cloned foods.
The provision had been introduced by Senators Barbara Mikulski and Arlen Specter, and was designed to address concerns that the FDA's risk assessment of cloning was flawed.
This assessment had been issued last December, and concluded that there were no additional safety risks posed by the technology when compared to other assisted reproductive technologies currently in use in US agriculture.
Nevertheless, fierce opposition to cloning has streamed in from health groups, consumer advocacies, scientists and even industry, culminating in the proposal of an amendment to the 2007 Farm Bill.
It directs the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to convene a blue-ribbon panel of leading scientists to review the FDA's initial decision that food from cloned animals is safe.
The amendment further requires the NAS to study the potential health impacts of cloned foods entering the nation's food supply, including the possible health effects of lessened milk consumption as a result of consumer avoidance of cloned food.
The bill also directs the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to examine consumer acceptance of cloned foods and the likely impacts they could have on domestic and international markets.
It is now up to the Senate and House Agriculture Committees to agree on the provisions of the final bill during conference, which will take place in early 2008.
FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach yesterday received a letter from a coalition of consumer and science groups urging the agency to delay any action related to issuing a final risk assessment until concerns have been addressed.
Groups including the Center for Food Safety, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Consumers Union, and the Consumer Federation of America stated in the letter that they were concerned the FDA intended to finalize its risk assessment by the end of the year.
"This action flies in the face of serious gaps in the agency's analysis and the fact that 150,000 public comments received by the FDA overwhelmingly opposed the approval of meat and milk from cloned animals out of concern for human health, animal welfare, and economic impacts," they stated.
They also flagged up in their letter that two recent legislative acts prove their concerns are shared by Congress.
As well as the Senate-passed version of the Farm Bill, the Consolidated Appropriations Act also encourages FDA to continue the voluntary moratorium on introducing cloned foods into the market. It recommends further study on the economic implications of the move.