The U.S. Farm Bill may prop up King Corn, inadvertently cause childhood obesity, and line the pockets of bigwig farmers and chemical pesticide makers. But it won't allow Frankenmeat (or Frankenmilk, for that matter) to enter your local grocery store.
The Senate blocked the use of cloned animals for food as it passed its version of the farm bill late Friday, according to a coalition of organizations that opposes the use of cloned animals.
The Food and Drug Administration, a year ago, found in a peer-reviewed risk assessment that "meat and milk from clones of adult cattle, pigs and goats, and their offspring, are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals."
Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) inserted language into the Farm Bill that requires significant further study that will, at the least, delay the development of food products from cloned animals. The National Academy of Sciences would have to first convene a blue-ribbon panel of leading scientists to review the FDA decision, conduct its own risk assessment and consider social factors. (How many people would stop drinking milk altogether if they're just plain freaked out by Frankenmilk, even if every scientific authority in the land says it's safe?)
The NAS is very thorough, and any study of this size would take months, or more likely years.
The U.S. has generally been more accommodating than Europeans of genetically modified foods (a.k.a. "Frankenfoods") and fibers, but only those that come from plant products. According a recent Department of Agriculture report, virtually all soybeans (91%) and cotton (87%), and a majority of corn (73%), is grown with genetically-modified seed designed to grow crops that withstand herbicides (so farmers can easily spray down competing weeds) or resist insects (so the plants produce compounds repellent or deadly to those pests).
Use of these seeds is up dramatically since 2000, and since soy- and corn-based additives are so ubiquitous (Why? Because generous Farm Bill subsidies pay farmers to grow soybean and corn) chances are good that you've eaten some genetically modified foods today. That is, unless you eat an exclusively organic diet, since USDA-certified organic foods cannot use genetically modified ingredients.
But cloned animals? That's a bit of genetic tinkering that the American palate may not be ready for. Cloning is that rare issue that frightens both the far left and far right reaches of the American political spectrum. Christian conservatives don't like the moral implications of playing God, and environmentalists and animal rights activists see dangers in genetic drift spreading human-chosen genes willy nilly through the landscape, among other concerns.
Meanwhile, Congress hasn't seen fit to require labeling of genetically modified foods, even though at least one Consumers Union survey found 89% of Americans wants full disclosure on food labels.
At least for now, the Senate has put a bureaucratic block on the use of cloned animals for food.
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