How do I know if I'm eating cloned meat?

Cloned Meat Labeling

The National Organic Program's criteria for organic certification exclude products from cloned animals and their offspring.
The National Organic Program's criteria for organic certification exclude products from cloned animals and their offspring.
Jeffrey Coolidge/Getty Images

Livestock cloning has been going on since at least 1998. In 2003, the FDA issued a voluntary ban on food products from cloned animals and their offspring until the organization could examine the safety issues. According to scientists who researched cloned livestock for the FDA, no distinguishable difference exists between the products of clones and those of non-clones.

The milk, meat and other animal products th­at were on store shelves before the 2003 ban were never labeled as coming from clones, and the later ban relied on voluntary self-regulation within the livestock industry. So, if meat or milk from cloned animals doesn't whet your appetite, how can you avoid bringing it home?

Due to the high cost of cloning, cloned animals are primarily used for breeding purposes. For instance, a milk supplier would clone the cow that produces the most milk out of the herd and then use those clones to breed more of the same. The farmer would sell the milk of those offspring, not of the clones themselves, since they would be more valuable as breeders. As of March 2008, the USDA estimated that there were around 600 cloned animals used for breeding in the United States [source: Knight].

But ­the FDA doesn't require special cloned meat labeling for food manufacturers that sell meat and milk from cloned offspring. Also, there's no scientific test to determine whether a meat or milk product came from cloned animal lineage. That ambiguity is one of the primary concerns voiced by consumer advocacy groups and people who oppose the FDA's motion. At this point, it's up to the manufacturers to disclose as much -- or as little -- as they wish. On the flip side, that may mean that we could see more non-cloned types of food labels from companies looking to capitalize on the public's general distrust of eating cloned meat.

Due to public concern, at least 13 state legislatures have introduced bills to require some type of identification on cloned animal products [source: Gogoi]. If the measures pass, they could serve a blow to the livestock and biotechnology industries that see cloning as the future of meat production. However, since scientists can't tell the difference between cloned and non-cloned animal meat, enforcing these potential laws would be difficult as well.

For now, if you want to avoid eating food associated with cloned animals, the easiest way is to go organic. In 2007, the National Organic Program, which oversees organic food standards in the United States, ruled that cloned animal products would not meet its criteria. That means that certified organic foods in the United States can't contain cloned animal products or products from the offspring of cloned animals [source: Knight].

­While this debate continues in the United States, it may soon echo abroad. Following the FDA's 2008 ruling, the European Food Safety Authority tentatively concurred that cloned food is safe for consumption but has yet to approve its sale in the European Union.

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  • Knight, Bruce I. "Animal Cloning: Transitioning from the Lab to the Market." USDA. March 5, 2008. (Sept. 2, 2008)
  • Ledford, Heidi. "Cloned animals deemed safe to eat." Dec. 28, 2006.
  • "Meat, milk from clones' offspring possibly in food supply: U.S. officials." CBC News. Sept. 3, 2008. (Sept. 3, 2008)
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