Followup: edible clones

A reading of the executive summary of the FDA report on the safety of cloned livestock confirms my earlier thoughts: there are no risks of consuming cloned meat per se. All of the identified “risks” have to do with the initial health of cloned livestock (such phrases as “the process of normalizing their [ie, cloned animals’] physiological functions”), which could, I suppose, pose a risk to human consumption inasmuch as it’s never best practice to put sickly animals into the food chain. But the report doesn’t even identify any potential risks of cloned meat as cloned meat.

A potential risk I don’t see identified is the impact of reproductive livestock cloning on the genetic variation in U.S. food animals. With the widespread use of artificial insemination and selective breeding, our meat animals’ gene pools are already pretty shallow, which makes them less able to resist disease outbreaks and gives breeders less raw material to adapt our agriculture to a changing world. If the genetic contribution of a single prize bull is now measured not just by how much sperm he can produce, but by how many times he can be cloned, we could be looking at even more dramatic reductions in livestock genetic variation in the future.

Say what?

From the New York Times (via the AP), “F.D.A. Says Food From Cloned Animals Is Safe:

After more than five years of study, the Food and Drug Administration concluded that cloned livestock is “virtually indistinguishable” from conventional livestock.

What I want to know is, where do they get the “virtually”? A cloned animal is (supposed to be) genetically identical to its “parent,” so the FDA isn’t telling them apart that way. Perhaps there’s some developmental signature that arises when you create an embryo from an adult cell, like telomere length? Whatever it is, I can’t think of any difference between a clone and a “natural” animal that would have an adverse effect on whoever eats the steak – and neither, apparently, could the FDA.

Here we go again

Slate reports on right-wing ribbing directed at Barak Obama’s middle name. Which is, unfortunately, Hussein. Having grown up with a surname that rhymes with “odor,” I can sympathize.

Key phrase: having grown up. Is the conservative wing of the comentariat so hard up for substantive criticisms of the junior senator from Illinois that they’re forced to resort to the sort of tactics I last encountered firsthand in elementary school? I’m not convinced yet that Obama is as good a choice for President as he is charming, but I hope that if he runs, he encounters critics who can demonstrate they’ve graduated the sixth grade.


Blogging is a terribly, terribly egotistical activity. It assumes that the world in general cares what I, personally, have to say about whatever topics catch my fleeting, Internet-era attention. It’s so egotistical, in fact, that some people (bloggers all) have carelessly described blogging as journalism, by which standard anyone who turns to anyone else and says, “so I read/heard/saw X in/on The New York Times/NPR/CNN and I think …” is a journalist. Even with the tiny taste of journalistic experience I have (three years on my university’s campus newspaper), I know that journalism takes far more than an opinion.

So if all I have to offer is an opinion, why should anyone care? My dad used to say that opinions are like assholes – everyone has one, but you don’t show them off in polite company. But I spend a lot of time online these days – both for work and to read the news – and it’s hard not to see that todays politics is increasingly driven by what’s said online, whether or not what’s said is worthwhile.

To the extent that I have something valuable to say, it’s because I think I can offer a perspective that isn’t represented anywhere else out there. My background crosses some of the major cultural divides of present-day politics: I’m a baptized member of the Mennonite Church who grew up in rural, conservative Lancaster County, PA, and I presently live in Idaho, in one of the few congressional districts in the nation to remain solidly Republican in the 2006 election. However, my parents raised me to view the Bible as an important, not infallible story; I voted for the Greens in 2000 (for every post except President); and I’m living in Idaho because I’m earning a doctorate in evolutionary biology in the excellent biology department at the University of Idaho. Does that make my perspective unique enough to rate a personal soapbox? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.


To refer to peregrinating Celtic monks and fundamentalist lobbyists, Origen and Oral Roberts, the Desert Fathers and Tim La Haye, Jerry Falwell and Dante, St. Francis and the TV “prosperity gospel” hucksters, Lady Julian of Norwich and Tammy Faye Baker, or John of the Cross and George W. Bush all as Christian stretches the word so thin its meaning vanishes. The term “carbon-based life-form” is as informative.
–David James Duncan, “What Fundamentalists Need,” Orion Magazine, July/August 2005.