The Associated Press ran a story this month outlining fears by the dairy industyr that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s inability to come to a decision about the safety of food from cloned animals may have already doomed that market. It has already led to the failure of one company that was prepared to sell cloned farm animals.
In 2003, the FDA issued a draft safety assessment that found food from cloned animals was probably as safe as food from non-cloned animals. But it also effectively banned the sale of food from non-cloned animals until it makes a final determination.
Several additional studies have been published in the interim confirming the FDA’s draft assessment that food from cloned animals is safe and indistinguishable from that produced by non-cloned animals, but the FDA’s final determination of safety is still nowhere in sight.
One company, Infigen, has already went out of business thanks to the FDA waffling. In 2002 and 2003, Infigen made headlines for advances it made in cloning pigs that allowed it to produce cloned pigs with just one round of embryo implantation in a single pig compared to earlier methods which required multiple rounds of embryo implantation in multiple animals to produce viable clones. Infigen co-founder Michael Bishop told the Associated Press that the FDA’s delay in approving food from cloned animals was the straw that broke his company’s back,
It’s hard to find people who want to do business with you when a government agency could possibly regulate against the food products entering the food chain.
According to the Associated Press, Bishop believes that cloned farm animals will never be economically viable.
This sentiment is apparently shared by many dairy farmers whom would otherwise benefit the most from cloned animals. As the Associated Press notes, because cloned animals are so expensive its unlikely they would ever be used for slaughter. Instead they would be beneficial in things like a dairy operation where a farmers could clone particularly productive dairy cows.
But the FDA lack of a decision and the current ban clearly creates the impression that milk from cloned cows may not be safe. Susan Ruland, a spokeswoman from the International Dairy Foods Association, told the Associated Press,
There’s a strong general feeling among our members that consumers are not receptive to milk from cloned cows. This seems to be one of the things where technology seems to drop something in the lap of the food companies. It’s not driven by the market or any benefit to the consumer.
There are currently farmers in the United States who have cloned dairy cows, but they feed the milk to family and employees rather than sell it for the moment. Wisconsin dairy farmer Bob Schauff, for example, tells the Associated Press that he had four clones of a prize-winning Holstein dairy cow made four years ago. Schauff calls the ban,
. . . ridiculous. It’s a phobia more than anything scientific. We need to get FDA to come along and say it’s fine. They’re as normal as any other animal. Common sense has to take over soon.
So when will the FDA finally resolve the matter one way or another? That’s anybody’s guess. According to the Associated Press, an FDA official said that the agency has no timetable for making a final decision.
The full text of the FDA’s draft assessment can be read here.
Dairy industry skeptical about cloned cows. Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press, August 11, 2005.