The Cloned Food Debate Continues
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Now, we've got two people who have different views of whether this is progress or regress. Dr. Barb Glenn is managing director of Animal Biotechnology at the Biotechnology Industry Organization. And Dr. Michael K. Hansen is a senior scientist with the Consumers Union. He works on biotech and other food safety issues.
Welcome to you, both.
Dr. BARB GLENN (Managing Director of Animal Biotechnology, Biotechnology Industry Organization): Thank you.
Dr. MICHAEL HANSEN (Senior Scientist, Consumers Union): Glad to be here.
Dr. GLENN: Yeah. Glad to be here as well.
CHIDEYA: So, Barb…
Dr. HANSEN: And hi, Barb.
Dr. GLENN: Hi. How are you?
CHIDEYA: You guys know each other? Do you guys arm wrestle sometimes?
Dr. HANSEN: Yes.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. GLENN: Of course.
Dr. HANSEN: Of course.
CHIDEYA: Let me start with you, Barb. Cloning is something that a lot of people don't really know much about. Do you agree with the FDA's findings? And the research only involved two companies, so is that enough?
Dr. GLENN: Well, Bio applauds the comprehensive science-based review that was done by the Food and Drug Administration. And indeed, they did confirm the safety of this technology for both the animals as well as for the foods we eat. They actually stated that the foods from livestock clones and their offspring are safe to eat as any other food. So, yes, we are behind this 110 percent. This is indeed the most comprehensive global scientific review of this technology.
CHIDEYA: Michael, when some people think clones, they're thinking invasion of the body snatchers. And we've got a lot of traffic on our blog that really reflects the legitimate and well thought out questions of people about this. So is this panic or is this common sense that leads people to question this? And how do you feel about it?
Dr. HANSEN: Well, I think it is common sense. All the surveys show that people are very concerned. We at Consumers Union actually did a large nationwide survey in June of this year and 69 percent of the people were concerned about consuming meat or milk from clones or their offspring, and 89 percent wanted it labeled.
And I would say we also disagree with the science. They looked at too few animals for certain things, for example. They said that pig - meat from pigs are safe to eat from cloned pigs, and they looked at four pigs. I would also point out that Health Canada has actually had scientific concerns on this as well, and has told the Food and Drug Administration that they would consider this to be novel foods that would require rigorous safety testing and that the data are not there yet to show that they're safe.
CHIDEYA: Now, Michael, is there a question about economics? We, for example, have talked to people about the marketing of fast food. And one of the arguments there is that, okay, people who are in tough economic shape living in neighborhoods that are in tough economic shape don't have as many choices. There's not grocery stores. Could there be a situation in the future where in the grocery stores, people have a choice if they go to whole foods, but not so much in other venues?
Dr. HANSEN: If there's no labeling, that could be true. But I think the big potential - big economic impact of clones is that if they're not labeled, people could either stay away from these foods and there's the international issue. If we don't do something soon, for example, there'll probably be a number of countries that have not made the decision and so will not allow meat or milk from cloned animals into their markets. And unless we segregate that stuff, they could block exports from the U.S.
That's why there's a real concern, and that's why there was a meeting in the White House last week with the U.S. Trade Representative and the FDA that were raising these international trade issues because we are very concerned about them.
Dr. GLENN: Could I just follow on to that?
Dr. GLENN: Yeah.
CHIDEYA: I'd like you to. And raise the issue of the E.U. stance as you do.
Dr. GLENN: Yeah. Let's talk a little bit about - again about the science. As I've mentioned, it is indeed a safe technology. Now, this has been reaffirmed recently by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but also, last week, the European Food Safety Agency put out their dressed opinion that the foods are safe.
This also aligns with risk assessments that have already been done by several countries in the world including New Zealand, France and Australia indicating that the technology is safe, the foods are safe. And indeed, I think most recognize that there really isn't a science question anymore. And in addition, let me add, with regard to consumer choice, I think consumer choice is extremely important.
In December, the two major cloning companies in the United States announced the new program that will allow us to basically track clones in the marketplace. And for food retailers then, because their costumers, consumers might want to know where - whether there's clones in the food supply, we can actually track those animals. We can actually honestly supply a no-clone food supply line.
So taken together, Michael, when you take the scientific assessment is clear, and we have an offering of choice using this process-based program, we've really got all - everything covered. We've got everything for you and I, for global trade and it's all available from this new breeding method.
CHIDEYA: Michael, let me ask you once specific scientific question. As we spoke to our reporter, he mentioned that the government has looked at whether or not some of the anomalies in cloned animals is important - decided no, it's not.
But Dolly, who was the cloned sheep, did show signs of premature aging before she died. Are you concerned that there are genetic anomalies, first of all, and secondly, that they would affect the meat?
Dr. HANSEN: Absolutely. We do feel that. And part of the reason that the FDA said this is safe is they're playing a little verbal game because they admit that many of the animals that are - the clones that are born - many of them are sickly and have all sorts of health problems. What they argue with that is they said, oh, but those animals won't make it into the food supply because they'll be caught by inspection, and I don't really think that that's true. So in their analysis, they actually excluded animals that they considered sick because they just arbitrarily said those won't go into the food supply. So yes, there's…
Dr. GLENN: Yes.
CHIDEYA: Let me get Barb in very quickly.
Dr. GLENN: Yeah, let's holler back on - first of all, it's a myth that Dolly died a premature death - that she aged quickly. That was never proven scientifically. So I wanted everyone to know that she lived a normal youth life and she was indeed euthanized, but she had a very bad viral condition.
CHIDEYA: Barb, we need you to respond quickly on the larger question.
Dr. GLENN: Okay. The FDA said animal health is not an issue, that there are no unique risks as compared to other animal breeding techniques. And so, these foods are safe based on the weight of the scientific evidence. And I trust my U.S. FDA.
CHIDEYA: All right. I know that you, guys are going to continue to talk about these amongst yourselves. Thank you for sharing with us.
Dr. GLENN: You're very welcome.
Dr. HANSEN: Thank you.
Dr. GLENN: Take care.
CHIDEYA: Dr. Barb Glenn is managing director of Animal Biotechnology at Biotechnology Industry Association, and Dr. Michael K. Hansen is a senior scientist with the Consumers Union and an expert on food safety issues. And he joined us via ISDN from the Consumers Union in Yonkers, New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.