Leading US dairy firm Dean Foods has said it will not accept milk from cloned cows, adding weight to an industry and consumer move against the technology proposed by the nation's food regulator.
According to a statement released by Dean Foods, its decision is based on the desire and expectations of its customers.
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.
But Dean Foods said that "if the FDA does approve the sale of milk from cloned cows, we will work with our dairy farmers to implement protocols to ensure that the milk they supply Dean Foods does not comes from cloned cows."
"Our decision not to accept this milk is based on meeting our consumers' expectations. We see no consumer benefit from this technology," said the firm.
Dean Foods, which also owns leading organic milk firm Horizon Dairy, is joined in its views by other organic dairy companies. Stonyfield Farms, Organic Valley and Straus Family Creamery have all pledged not to accept milk from cloned cows.
Ben & Jerry's has also firmly expressed its position against cloning. And in a January 23 letter to its coop members, California's largest dairy processor, California Dairies, stated that it "will not accept milk from cloned cows, effective immediately." Another California dairy, Clover Stornetta announced its ban on milk from clones early in January.
The battle against accepting cloned products into the food chain is spearheaded by the nation's Center for Food Safety (CFS), which in October filed a legal petition with FDA seeking a moratorium on foods produced from cloned animals and the establishment of mandatory rules for pre-market food safety and environmental review of cloned foods.
The organization also asked FDA to request that the Department of Health and Human Services establish a federal review committee to advise FDA on the ethical issues related to cloning.
Cloning may provide processors with a better quality of meat and products – such as animals with increased disease resistance – but CFS claims that the technology, if adopted, will result in a losing situation for both consumers and manufacturers. FDA, it says, is taking a narrow view and ignoring public and industry concerns.
The growing protests come after FDA in December released a report that claimed food from cloned animals and their offspring was as safe for human consumption as conventional food. The regulator 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.
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.
Another bill introduced this month by Senators Patrick Leahy and Herb Kohl, is designed to prevent milk and meat products from cloned livestock from receiving an organic label under the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP).
Although FDA is expected to conclude that milk and meat from cloned animals is safe, the growing opposition to the technology is an indication that consumers are not yet ready or willing to accept the technology.
"Numerous surveys have shown that Americans are not interested in buying products that contain milk from cloned cows," said Dean Foods, adding that the firm's decision to reject these is a response to consumer needs.