Dairy Industry Skeptical About Cloned Cows
WASHINGTON — As the Food and Drug Administration considers whether to lift a voluntary ban on selling food from cloned animals, the agency is getting some resistance from an unusual source: the dairy industry.
Trade groups for farmers and companies that use dairy products are not enthusiastic about introducing milk from cloned cows into the marketplace, fearing consumers would be leery about the products.
“There’s a strong general feeling among our members that consumers are not receptive to milk from cloned cows,” said Susan Ruland, a spokeswoman for the International Dairy Foods Association, which represents food manufacturers that use dairy products.
Cloning is the creation of an animal from the DNA of a single parent to create an offspring genetically identical to the parent.
“This seems to be one of the things where technology seems to drop something in the lap of the food companies,” Ruland said in a recent interview. “It’s not driven by the market or any benefit to the consumer.”
A 2002 Gallup poll found that 66 percent of American consumers said that cloning animals was “morally wrong.” A March survey by the International Food Information Council, an industry trade group, reported that 63 percent of consumers would likely not buy food from cloned animals, even if the FDA determined the products were safe.
Last month, the National Milk Producers Federation, representing dairy farmers, approved a position statement that it “does not at this time support milk from cloned cows entering the marketplace until FDA determines that milk from cloned cows is the same as milk from conventionally bred animals.”
Because cloning a cow is expensive, about $20,000, selling meat from a clone wouldn’t be financially viable. The main commercial benefit would be to sell milk from the clone of a prized cow, or for breeding purposes.
The dairy groups’ position is at odds with the biotechnology industry and the small number of farmers who have invested in cloning cows.
Barb Glenn, director of animal biotechnology at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, predicted that cloning will benefit both consumers and producers. “With any new technology, you’ll have groups concerned about it,” she said.
Bob Schauf, a dairy farmer from Barron, Wis., about 90 miles east of Minneapolis, cloned his prize-winning Holstein about four years ago, making four copies – one of which died because of complications while calving earlier this year.
Schauf called 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.”
Because the FDA has asked farmers not to sell products from cloned animals, Schauf feeds the milk to his family and employees. He said he has other elite cows that he’d like to clone but has held off because of the government action.
In 2003, the FDA issued a summary of its draft risk assessment, which found that food from cloned animals was probably as safe as that from non-cloned animals. But it asked farmers to refrain from selling products from cloned animals until a final determination is made.
Earlier this year, a study by the Center for Regenerative Biology at the University of Connecticut found that meat and milk from cloned animals is essentially identical to that of non-cloned animals.
Aside from the health issues are questions about animal welfare, because cloned animals die in higher numbers during pregnancy and right after birth. A National Academy of Sciences panel looking at cloning raised the issue in a 2002 report.
The Humane Society of the United States urged the FDA to keep the ban in place. In a letter June 28, President Wayne Pacelle wrote that cloning “carries too high a cost with regard to animal suffering, yet offers little benefit to humans and animals alike.”
Greg Wiles, a dairy farmer in Hagerstown, Md., has made two clones from a prolific Holstein. One is healthy, but the other suffers from health problems that Wiles declined to specify.
“I have said the FDA is more than welcome to get any blood or tissue samples,” Wiles said. “I think it needs to be looked into.”
Wiles said he often thinks about disregarding the ban and selling the milk, which he now pours down the drain. “I think the FDA has taken too long to determine if it’s safe or not,” he said.
The FDA declined an interview request for this story, saying in a statement that it would be “premature to discuss our findings or to make any final determinations due to the complexity of the issue.” It added that the agency does not have a timeframe for a final decision.
One of the cutting-edge animal cloning companies, Infigen of DeForest, Wis., ceased operations last year while waiting for the FDA to issue such a decision.
At the time, Infigen blamed delays in federal grants and funding cutbacks by a partner. But the company’s co-founder and president, Michael Bishop, said the FDA delay was a fatal blow.
“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,” Bishop said. He predicted that cloning will never become viable for commercial livestock.