WATERLOO, O.N. (CUP) — It’s fascinating how concepts presented within not-so-distant science fiction love to become science fact. A great and recent example of this is animal cloning.
Right now, massive pressure is being placed on American federal regulators by private interests to approve and legitimize the cloning of farm animals for human consumption.
These interests have argued that milk or meat products from a cloned cow should be available for sale alongside those from regular, non-cloned animals.
Interestingly enough, no law currently prevents them from being distributed within the US. And this one took me by surprise: they already have the cloned animals ready to go. In a very real sense, science snuck up on legislators, and the public as well.
But because these private interests always play nice, of course, companies such as the Austin, Texas-based ViaGen have voluntarily withheld all cloned animals until federal approval for their distribution is received, which isn’t looking far off.
In fact, according to an article in the Portsmouth Herald, as far back as 2002 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was already on track to release a National Academy of Science report it commissioned, stating that food derived from cloned animals poses no safety concern to humans, and therefore should be deemed appropriate for sale.
That report was scrapped in its final hour, but is rumored to be making a re-appearance within the next few months, causing all the recent media attention.
Meanwhile, Canada is also looking into the idea of legitimizing cloned animal products, with a paper slated for release from Health Canada this fall discussing the matter.
The University of Guelph is currently performing a long-term study on seven cloned cows.
One should be rather confident that concerns regarding human safety are not the main issue holding up all of this cloning business though, as firms like ViaGen would have you believe. The main snag is negative public perception of the idea — what some of these firms call the “gross factor.”
The idea of cloning in general frightens people. Knowing that we have the power to make a genetically identical copy of a living being has already been tough enough for the public to accept, never mind the idea of eating one for dinner.
If public safety was really the main concern when it comes to approving new methods of food production in North America, the US and Canada would never have allowed the massive infiltration of genetically modified ingredients into our food system without a more stringent approval process and study period.
According to a panel of experts at the Royal Society of Canada who were mentioned in a recent Globe and Mail piece, the approval process in this country for genetically modified foods was extremely flawed. Not to mention the fact that most of the country had no idea this even took place.
Currently, about 75 per cent of the processed foods Canadians eat are likely to contain genetically modified ingredients, with none of them labeled, even as the long term effects of such foods are still undetermined.
It’s being presented that the human consumption of such materials is safe, even when the animals themselves are being plagued by damaging health problems. These include weakened immune systems leading to an increased need for antibiotics, the development of arthritis at an earlier age alongside other premature aging, heart and breathing problems, deformities, and obesity.
These are all terribly frightening, yet they will not be the main reason if cloned foods don’t get approved in Canada.
Only this pesky public perception issue can sour the deal now. That is, if it makes it to the national level, unlike genetically modified foods which were stealthily approved. They are now an institutionalized aspect of our nation’s food manufacturing system, and won’t be going anywhere soon. And if cloned animal products do get the nod, neither will they.