Cloning creates controversy

by 5m Editor
12 February 2007, at 11:48am

US - Genetic copying in animal breeding can eliminate disease and abnormalities, but questions about food and milk safety remain.

When the farming industry embraced artificial insemination during the 1940s, some critics argued that it would lead to animal abnormalities or destroy breeding businesses. Others proclaimed it tantamount to playing God.

Such objections have long since faded away, at least beyond the fringes, and the technology now is used to produce about three-quarters of all dairy cattle. To supporters of the Food and Drug Administration's preliminary approval of food from most clones and their offspring, a December announcement that sparked wide and vehement protests, the history of artificial insemination (AI) is telling.

"The information age changes the way that people can fan the flames of controversy," said James Murray, professor of animal science at UC Davis, who argues that extensive scientific research has shown no danger from cloned animals. "This is just AI with the Internet. It's a storm in a teapot."

Opponents of the FDA's decision, however, point to a more recent precedent: the agency's approval of St. Louis-based Monsanto Co.'s synthetic bovine growth hormone (BGH) in the early 1990s.

Consumer groups immediately called for boycotts, and many diary processors pledged to reject the drug. In the fourteen years since BGH's approval, its use has never exceeded about one-third of U.S. cattle. Recently announced plans to curtail or eliminate BGH by Dean Foods, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway, Starbucks and other major retailers and manufacturers promise to squeeze that market share further.

"When Monsanto tried to get the entire dairy industry to embrace growth hormones, we understood that people who bought our milk weren't going to want it. The same lesson applies here," said Marcus Benedetti, president of dairy processor Clover-Stornetta Farms in Petaluma, which has said it will not use cloned animals.