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.

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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.

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