Cloned Hamburger Meat Still Seen a Long Way Off
CHICAGO It may be years before consumers will be buying fast-food hamburgers or grilling T-bone steaks made from cloned cattle because the cloning process is too expensive and currently is not commercially viable, two livestock economists said Thursday.
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday said in a draft report that milk and meat from cloned animals was safe to eat. If the report gains final approval, U.S. consumers theoretically could buy food made from cloned cattle, pigs, and goats, but not sheep.
However, consumers will not likely be finding cloned meat and milk products any time soon, the economists said.
"Cloned animals are very expensive and commercially are not going to happen, at least in any quantity," said Jim Robb, an economist with the Denver-based Livestock Marketing Information Center.
Clones are made by taking cells from an adult animal and fusing them with other cells before implanting them in a surrogate mother. A relatively small amount of cloned livestock now exists in the United States.
The FDA said it will maintain its current moratorium on the food until a final ruling is issued.
There may be instances of livestock producers cloning superior breeding stock to retain the genetic traits, but mass producing cloned-animals for meat production does not seem feasible, the economists said.
"The most likely thing is we will clone outstanding animals to make their genes more available to commercial livestock producers," said Steve Meyer, economist with Iowa-based Paragon Economics. "I don't think we are going to clone very many animals for the marketplace. From what I understand it is too expensive."
Also, while the FDA appears on the verge of declaring that meat and milk from cloned animals is safe, there still may be consumer resistance.
"As confident as we are in the science of cloning, we also recognize that consumers may have concerns with the notion of consuming meat and milk from cloned animals," the American Meat Institute, a meat industry trade group, said in a statement.
"We believe that FDA should be cautious about allowing meat and milk from cloned animals to be introduced into the marketplace if most consumers are unwilling to accept the technology," it said.
The availability of cloned food could speed the development and use of a trace-back system that could follow packages of meat and other products back to the farm, said Robb.
Currently such a trace-back system is voluntary, but it has been gaining supporters since the U.S. reported its first case of mad-cow disease in late 2003.
"All of these types of issues will push us longer term to more traceability," said Robb.