Cloned Beef: It's What's for Dinner? The FDA rules that food from certain cloned animals and their offspring is safe to eat, opening the door for using the controversial technology in the U.S. food supply. Washington Post reporter Rick Weiss puts some perspective on the decision.
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Cloned Beef: It's What's for Dinner?

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Cloned Beef: It's What's for Dinner?

Cloned Beef: It's What's for Dinner?

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Well, we're going to talk about this.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced yesterday that meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs, goats and their offspring are as safe to eat as food from animals bred the old-fashion way. And that's clearing the way for the products to hit supermarket shelves in the coming years.

The decision comes after six years of research, and more than 700 studies looking at whether milk, organ or muscle tissue from cloned animals is harmful to ingest. Cloning for consumption has been a controversial topic. Scientists, farmers, food producers, consumers, animal rights groups, even the U.S. Senate have weighed in on this.

And now that these cloned pigs and cows and goats will be headed to market, we're going to look at what's made this such a hotly debated issue, and the reaction to the FDA's decision.

Rick Weiss is a reporter for The Washington Post. He's been following this story.

Hi, Rick.

Mr. RICK WEISS (Reporter, The Washington Post): Hi. How are you doing?

MARTIN: I'm doing okay. Thanks for joining us this morning. I have an initial question. Rick, have you ever eaten cloned meat or ingested cloned milk?

Mr. WEISS: Well, not to my knowledge…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEISS: …although one of the things I found out yesterday is that a lot of us have probably been already eating meat from the offspring of clones, because they've been sort of leaking onto the market quietly over the last few years, despite FDA's request that they'd be kept off.

MARTIN: Really?

Mr. WEISS: But the clone themselves, I think, we're still waiting for those.

ALISON STEWART, host:

It's interesting, Rachel, though, that just in talking about it, the language used - ingested milk. Most people drink milk.

MARTIN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You're right. You're right.

STEWART: But I think the way you posed your question…

MARTIN: You're right.

STEWART: …really speaks to one of the issues that people have.

MARTIN: It feels - well, we'll just get right through it, Rick. What are some of the - I'll reveal my own biases, which are - clearly already been revealed. What - in your reporting, when you talk to people, consumers, about what they fear most about this or - see? My question revealed my bias again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: What's their reaction? What's their reaction to this issue?

Mr. WEISS: Well, first of all, yeah, you're in the majority. The surveys in this country showed that, you know, maybe 15, 20 percent of the people in this country say they have a, quote, unquote, "favorable impression" of eating food from clones. It just seems to be one of those visceral - can I use the word?

MARTIN: Sure.

Mr. WEISS: Reactions that people have. And there's a couple of issues. One is that there's just something a little bit weird about thinking that an animal has been mass-produced in a way maybe, you know, pills are mass-produced and packaged in blister packs for human consumption. Food is a very emotional issue. We like to think it's unique and special.

But there are also real sort of safety and animal welfare concerns, because the fact is that cloning is still an inefficient scientific process. A lot of clones that are grown don't make it even to birth, and a lot of the others die right after birth. And so there are animal welfare issues that people have raised with the government agencies, saying, you know, we shouldn't really turn this into a food production system till more of these animals can survive and have a happy life.

And all that, of course, is separate from the issue of whether it's safe to eat it, which at least, scientifically, that's the one issue that really has been resolved now with the FDA's report yesterday saying every way they've looked at it - upside down, side ways, every kind of test they run - the stuff seems just identical to the food we're already eating.

MARTIN: But Congress has weighed in on this, saying the opposite, right? Didn't they pass some legislation - not passed, but it had been to the table. They were trying to get the FDA to hold off on this approval, saying more testing needed to be done.

Mr. WEISS: That's right. Although it's not necessarily safety that - safety is a concern that's raised. I think when you really look at what's behind Congress' moves, as it is often the case, are economic concerns. And that's something that the government has really acknowledged at this point.

It was interesting yesterday, even as the FDA said we finished our six years of study, this stuff is safe, the USDA - the Agricultural Department - stepped right up to the stage with them and said, yes, but we'd really rather that none of these farmers send these animals to market yet, because we have a real economic concern here that as long as people don't want this food - and especially our international trading partners don't want it - it's only going to hurt our products on the market if people think there's cloned stuff in there. And why don't we wait a while so we can hammer out some deals and make sure everyone else is comfortable with it?

MARTIN: So can I ask but it may come off as a very basic question, but is there a grand cattle shortage that I don't know about?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I mean, why are we cloning cows?

Mr. WEISS: Right. No. There is no shortage of cattle, and there is certainly no shortage of milk in this country. There's great surpluses of it. But what there is a shortage of, in the opinion of the food - some parts of the food industry, is a real predictable consistency. You know, everyone knows what it's like to go buy an expensive steak and mm, you know what? This is a little tough. And what the meat producers are saying is wouldn't it be great to live in a world where every time you had a steak, it was just right and perfect? And the way to do that is to get your absolutely best double-muscled, perfectly marbled, you know, livestock out there and then clone them. Make thousands of them, maybe millions of them.

MARTIN: This is a very brave new world.

STEWART: But, you know, it's funny, that I think there's the old saying, you are what you eat. So when people think about eating cloned food, you sort of wonder, well, in 30 years, if I'm all of a sudden, you know, going to develop another - a cloned arm coming out of me because I ate cloned meat.

Mr. WEISS: Well, you know, it's funny you bring that up, because although I'm not sure it would really turn you into a clone to eat this stuff, one of the other arguments that I am hearing from opponents is that the more animal cloning we do and the better the technology gets there, the easier it's going to be for scientists to clone people, which is something a lot of people don't think is a good idea, either. So maybe this is a technology we should just leave a little bit on the sidelines for a while.

STEWART: What does this mean for ranchers and dairy farmers, now?

Mr. WEISS: Well, for the three or four companies in this country that have been waiting to get into the cloning business that have made a few hundred of these animals now and have been waiting for the green light from the FDA, it's good news because they can start really ramping up production. And what they're going to do is not put the clones themselves on the market right now. They're just too valuable and too expensive. But they will be used as breeding stock, and their semen will be used for artificial insemination, and they'll be used for breeding offspring of clones. And those offspring will be presumably a little bit higher quality than the average cow or pig because they're - one of their parents will have been a perfect clone.

And those are the kinds of things that you'll start seeing on the market in a few years, because it takes time for these animals to all grow up. But we're talking about meat from the offspring of clones and milk from dairy cows that are themselves the offspring of great dairy cow clones.

MARTIN: Okay. Thank you, Rick Weiss…

Mr. WEISS: Enjoy.

MARTIN: …reporter for The Washington Post. Cloned meat, coming to a grocery store near you. It'll be a few years I guess, though.

Thanks very much, Rick.

Mr. WEISS: You're welcome. Get used to it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Next up on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT, the most read, commented on and e-mailed stories around the Web. The BPP staff is ready for some Internet fun.

MARTIN: And did you miss "American Idol?"

STEWART: Not to worry - a recap of all the good stuff coming up.

This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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