Saturday, May 5, 2007

The FDA Gives a Preliminary OK to Cloning, and the Controversy is On!

I'm a member of a fantastic Mom's community, and recently another member expressed her concern over something the FDA said about cloning livestock. In a preliminary finding, the FDA could find no reason why cloned livestock would pose a health threat to consumers: "Currently, the FDA has only issued preliminary approval. This means that final approval is still months away, and cloned food products wouldn't likely reach your supermarket until 2008..." (

Even so, the Moms who read about this idea were completely freaked out by it. One Mother felt that consumers needed to support farmers more, and ignore the scientists. Most were just grossed out by the concept of possibly eating, or serving their kids, cloned meat. On the surface, I can understand why--the term "clone" has such a negative connotation--but I am a stickler for the facts, contradictory by nature, stubborn as all get out, and I also doubt just about everything I read unless I personally check it out every which way from every imaginable source. See? I am really THAT stubborn (just one of many character flaws, I know) .

So, anyway, I did some research of my own, and here's what I found out.

First, the source quoted above,, suggested that the FDA ignored scientists and consumers. Not so; read on. The FDA invited consumers as well as scientists to offer up commentary, including the National Academy of Sciences--not just the two major cloning corporations--and could find no factual basis to conclude NOT to allow cloning. They did make an exception in the case of sheep, where they wanted to do more study.

Secondly, this isn't all about the scientists. Farmers are the ones who WANT the cloning. The process of cloning does not involve hormone-enhanced livestock, which I personally do believe presents a threat (just from taking hormones myself, I can see they are powerful!). I can understand that when we hear "clone" we think "mad scientists" or something, but really this is something the agricultural community has been gunning for.

Cloning livestock is done like this: a cell is taken, usually in a regular skin biopsy, from a male donor, say a sheep. The cell and the egg from a mother sheep are fused together, EXCEPT that the mother's genetic markers are first removed from the egg, so that the male donor will be the only one donating DNA. In other words, so the baby sheep will be an exact replica of Dad. The embryo is implanted in the Mom sheep, who serves like a surrogate Mom, and evenutally the baby sheep is born in the usual way, only identical to Dad. It is NOT created on some weird Frankenstein slab. It doesn't have two heads, or whatever.

Why even bother with all this? Animals are chosen to be cloned because they are the BEST ones, and the farmers want the best livestock to be reproduced because it is best for the business. Reproducing the best livestock means less chance of things like mad cow disease, etc. However, and this is important: it's REALLY expensive to clone an animal. So clones are not going to be popping up all over, "Because clones will be used primarily for breeding, almost all of the food that comes from the cloning process is expected to be from sexually-reproduced offspring and descendents of clones, and not the clones themselves." (That's from the FDA's website, which, by the way, mentions preliminary findings but not a "ruling".) Generally speaking, animals that have genetic defects usually can't reproduce, so "sexually reproduced offspring" would be a safe bet, in my mind.

Oh, and here's something else I didn't know. Remember Dolly, the cloned sheep that started all this cloning debate? She died, as did a number of other sheep in the same flock, of cancer, NOT as a result of the cloning process.

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