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.
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?
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.