A Taste for Cloned-Food (2008 Feb)

by Barry A. Liebling

Soon Americans will be able to purchase cloned-food, but what about those who don’t want it?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a lengthy report to the news media on the safety of food from cloned animals (cattle, pigs, and goats) and their offspring. The bottom line is that FDA investigators conclude that consuming food derived from cloned animals is no more risky than eating food from animals that are bred conventionally.

This paves the way for the United States to be the first country to permit the sale of meat and dairy products that are derived from cloned animals.

Assuming the FDA report turns out to be correct and cloned-food is safe, what is likely to happen?

Some food producers view the prospect of using cloning techniques as an attractive step forward.

Duplicating animals that have especially desirable traits might be more effective at obtaining consistently high quality food than relying on conventional breeding techniques. For example, a cow that produces twice as much milk as her peers might be the template for many cows that pump out high-quality milk copiously. Similarly, a cow that is naturally resistant to common cattle diseases might be duplicated to produce calves that are healthier and do not need antibiotics.

If companies in the meat and dairy industry can take advantage of cloning techniques they will be able to deliver food more economically, which could mean higher profits. Producers are not inclined to invest in state-of-the-art biotechnology unless they expect an economic payoff.

From the consumers’ standpoint, it is possible that high-quality food derived from the offspring of cloned animals will cost less. If many companies are selling cloned-food they might compete with one another on price. Since this high technology food is cheaper to make, producers have more wiggle room to sell at a discount while still making a profit.

Of course, there are people who regard the idea of eating cloned-food as unpalatable.

Various activists – including advocates of “natural and organic” foods, radical environmentalists, and technophobes – would like to ban the sale of these new comestibles. To some alarmists, cloned-food is doubly frightening in that it is the offspring of innovative biotechnology and profit-seeking corporations.

Senator Barbara Mikulski has publicly come out against cloned foods and is quoted as saying “Just because something has been created in a lab, doesn’t mean we should have to eat it.” She has argued that if cloned food is not banned outright, it should at least be required to be labeled “this product is from a cloned animal or its progeny.”

And some mainstream consumers who are neither politically active nor philosophically opposed to new technology are uncomfortable when they think of eating cloned food. Meat and dairy produced this way just seems “yucky” to them.

Companies that intend to sell cloned food will have a significant marketing and advertising challenge. They will have to make their case persuasively that the FDA findings are accurate -cloned-food is safe – and that the new technology is advantageous to consumers. But no matter how well the industry communicates with the public, there will still be people who prefer to stay away from cloned-food. What are the prospects for those who want their meat and dairy made the “old fashioned way”?

Consumers who seek to avoid cloned-food and stick to products that are not dependent on the new biotechnology will almost certainly be accommodated. According to Business Week several large companies – including Whole Foods Market, Dean Foods, and Ben & Jerry’s have said they will not use foods derived from cloned animals. Interested food manufacturers and retailers will quickly jump in to the market with a new category – non-cloned-food. This is parallel to what is already being done with specialty foods such as kosher, organic, and non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism).

At first, non-cloned-food might be more expensive for consumers because cloned-food is cheaper to produce and because consumers who want traditional food may be willing to pay a premium. However, to the extent that non-cloned-food attracts a large number of enthusiasts, many companies will contend for the consumers’ business which will tend to push prices down.

It seems that Senator Mikulski’s alarm is unwarranted if she is worried that when cloned-food is available people will “have to eat it.” In a free market there are always opportunities for food producers to meet the changing wants of consumers. She is also unduly concerned when she urges that the labeling of cloned-food become mandatory. The manufacturers of non-cloned-food will be happy to label and promote their products prominently – the same way that kosher, organic, and non-GMO foods are easily identified.

When cloned-foods arrive what will happen to those who don’t want them? They will be provided with alternatives that are more to their taste.

*** See other entries at AlertMindPublishing.com in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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