Legislative Bill Would Require Labels for Cloned Meat

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California's Senate Health Committee takes up a bill today that would require labels for food containing products from cloned animals. Earlier this year, the federal Food and Drug Administration declared meat and dairy products from cloned animals safe to eat. KPCC's Julie Small reports that raises the prospects for cloned products on store shelves and for consumer pushback.

Julie Small: Only a hundred animals in the United States have been cloned from the cells of adult mammals. So far, none of them or their offspring have entered the domestic food supply. State senator Carole Migden of San Francisco says that's reason enough for California to start labeling milk, cheese, and meat from cloned animals.

Senator Carole Migden: I think the public desires to know what it is eating, and consumers should have a choice in deciding whether they consume real or fake food.

Small: Rebecca Spector with the non-profit Center for Food Safety says the federal agency charged with protecting consumers' health hasn't adequately gauged the potential risks of cloned foods.

Rebecca Spector: They did very few studies on the risks of food from cloned animals and there's been no long-term food safety studies on these products.

Small: Spector says labeling and tracking cloned products would be the only way to measure adverse health effects. But doing that would mean separating cloned animals at every point in food processing. Try that at dairy farms that pool cow's milk, says Alison Van Eenennaam, a biotechnologist at UC Davis.

Alison Van Eenennaam: To try and keep the 5 gallons that came from Bessie the clone separate from the 55 gallons that came from the other animals is really quite difficult to do, and very expensive to implement.

Small: Van Eenennaam says food processors could develop technology to track cloned animals. But she wonders whether that's necessary. She regards cloning as just another tool to enhance the food supply.

Van Eenennaam: It's just one of the many reproductive assistive technologies that animal breeders use to select the best genetics to be parents for the next generations. Y'know, 70% of all the dairy cows in America are bred using artificial insemination.

Small: Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed Senator Migden's cloned animal products labeling bill last year. Then, he called it "costly" and "unenforceable." There's no word yet on whether he's changed his mind.