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Deja Moo: Are we ready for cloned cattle?

29-Jan-2007

Here we go again. Yet another technology in its infancy is likely to be introduced into the food supply, while industry remains cautious and consumers divided.

Cloning may be safe and ultimately offer future benefit to the industry, but the controversy surrounding the entire issue demands that individuals must be allowed to make the choice of whether they want to buy products containing such foods.

The issue over cloned meat is not one of health and safety - the scientific evidence examined by US and EU regulators indicates the cloned variety is no different from the regular.

Instead the issue the industry must now face is whether it wants to test consumers' acceptance of such a new technology, given the current concerns over the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

This is why there is a strong case to be made that food industry organisations and politicians must now take immediate action to require labelling before the backlash grows.

Labelling and a programme of education would put an end to the fear factor being stoked by media headlines declaring cloning is creating a "freak show" on the farms - which harkens back to the "Frankenstein" language that was used to express distrust of GMOs.

One can already see the fault lines developing over the issue in the recent actions taken by US and EU regulators - a potential rift that could lead to the same consumer confusion that has arisen over GMOs due to the conflict between the two trading partners.

In the case of cloned meat, the US regulator has issued a consultation proposing to allow the product into the food chain without the need for labelling. In the EU, regulators from member countries have said cloned meat - while safe - needs to go through its novel foods approval process, again, in the same manner as GMOs.

And we know what happened to GMOs in Europe once the EU's food safety regulator began giving positive opinions on individual products - approvals were blocked at the political level due to a consumer backlash.

The public is suspicious of cloned foods, because of the memories of past heath scares, the feeling that technology is being shoved down their throats without consultation, and a lack of understanding of the science involved.

An independent study in the US indicates that 60 per cent of Americans would not knowingly eat cloned meat. A 2002 EU survey found that Europeans were generally against any new foods that had been produced through new scientific advances - such as GMOs.

A new tactic is therefore needed by the food industry.

One could argue that the regulatory decision-making process begins and ends on the single issue of whether food derived from clones and their progeny is safe for public consumption.

Theoritically and in practice, this is done by examining the scientific evidence and then making a risk-based assessement of the potential benefits and harm.

But once the regulators have finished with their part, the decision on actually introducing cloned food then enters the realm of politics, market economics and ethics.

Railroading a cattle-train of clones into the food supply will simply serve to heighten fears and potentially cause a backlash against the food industry.

George Reynolds is a reporter for FoodProductionDaily.com and FoodProductionDaily-USA.com. He has a law degree and holds UK accounting and journalism qualifications.

If you would like to comment on this article please contact george.reynolds 'at' decisionnews.com

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