Sunday, January 31, 2010

Eating Dolly

Remember Dolly? The first cloned mammal? The world’s most famous sheep? How would you feel about having Dolly for dinner, and I don’t mean to visit…

This week, I am writing about cloned meat in the food chain. We’ve come a long way in cloning techniques since Dolly (1996) and several farms in the United States are now producing cloned meat for human consumption. I thought I would review the literature and find an article on the safety of eating cloned meat. I’m not going to lie: I was biased going into this. I’m just not sure how I feel about a Dolly steak. As a scientist, however, I may not be biased in methodology, so I reviewed all the articles I could find on cloned meat as a source of food. Here is what I found:

  • Cloned meat appears to be exactly the same as regular meat. Same nutrients, same properties, it’s virtually biologically indistinguishable.
  • Animal models, when fed cloned meat for some time, seem perfectly fine.
  • Animal models, when fed cloned meat and then made to reproduce, also seem perfectly fine, and reproduce just like animals fed regular meat, and the babies are fine, too.
Given the evidence, I have to tell you that there appears to be no hint of anything wrong with eating cloned meat.

So what? That’s it? We just drop it? The Food and Drug Administration was totally justified to approve cloned meat to enter the food chain in 2006? If you review the science, yes.


As someone who is ever careful about the quality of food, however, I personally have a few reservations. First, scientific reservations:

  • Overall, I only found a handful of controlled studies.
  • The longest-term study I have found looking at the effects of feeding cloned meat and milk to animals is 12 months. While 12 months is a very long time in the life of a rat (the species used in this particular study), that still may not be long enough. Especially considering we don’t actually have that much in common with the rat (except perhaps a love for food).
  • The main study looking at how feeding cloned meat to animals impacts reproduction was done in rabbits. Is it me or do rabbits not normally eat much meat?
  • While the data clearly suggests that cloned meat is just like regular meat, other scientific studies find that cloned animals have a higher fetal mortality rate and may be more susceptible to some diseases. Now there’s probably a reason for that, and until we find it, how can we be positive it’s not somehow affecting the meat?
That being said, proteins are proteins. And logically, cloned meat, as the evidence suggests, is likely identical to regular meat. The reason I would still chose not to eat it is more ethical than biological. With an ever-decreasing diversity on Earth, I can’t help but think that the mass production of cloned beings is a step in the wrong direction.

Because the laws on labeling cloned meat are still a bit fuzzy, what can you do if you would rather avoid cloned meat? One easy (albeit expensive) way to be sure is to go organic. In the last few years, both Canadian and American food authorities have declared that cloned meat or milk does not fit the organic bill. Another great way is to seek out meat from local producers, and get information on their practices. Why not visit the local farms? Road trip!


Sample of references: Effects of cloned-cattle meat diet on reproductive parameters in pregnant rabbits. (2010) Lee NJ, Yang BC, Hwang JS, Im GS, Ko YG, Park EW, Seong HH, Park SB, Kang JK, Hwang S. Food Chem Toxicol [Epub ahead of print].


Fourteen-week feeding test of meat and milk derived from cloned cattle in the rat. (2007) Yamaguchi M, Takahashi S. Theriogenology 67(1):153-65.


Cloning animals by somatic cell nuclear transfer-biological factors. (2003) Tian XC, Kubota C, Enright B, Yang X. Reprod Biol Endocrinol 1:98.

4 Responses to “Eating Dolly”

Fawn said...

Ewww, yeah, I'm not sure about how I feel about eating Dolly, either. What is the advantage to farmers of having cloned animals, anyway?

Ugh, ugh, ugh!

Hi Fawn, thanks for your comment!
Right now, the costs of cloning are a bit prohibitive, but it's worth it if you have a beef that has that perfectly marbled meat, or a cow that really gives a ton of milk. Because it's so expensive still, producers mostly clone the "performers" and sell their offspring. Which brings the next question: are the conventionally-generated offspring of cloned animals safe to eat? This question is playing a big role in the labeling battle.

Nemew said...

I wouldn't mind eating Dolly, but I guess it's just my carnivore side speaking.

On the other hand, I am concerned about the loss of genetic diversity. Cloning methods have been in use with plants (cutting, division, ...) for decades (centuries ?), and are showing now some very alarming signs.

I'm specifically thinking about some species of bananas and rubber plants, which are now facing extinction because of genetic vulnerabilities.

I guess there's a reason why Mother Nature gave us mommies and daddies !

Thanks for your comment, Nemew! Your concerns are very similar to mine. I think we need to remember that genetic diversity exists for a reason. :)

 
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