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Sunday, March 18, 2007

More Food Hysteria

Poor ol' milk. It's really taking a beating these days. At least from people whose fear of science seems to be equal to their ignorance of it.

I talked about this a few days ago in Another Victory for Ignorance.

Now comes the latest bit of hysteria. Milk from...

{ominous music}

... cloned cows.

The evidence comes from an article Milk from cloned cows may soon appear in a dairy case near you, by Celeste Kennel-Shank and Zena McFadden of the Medill News Service that I found online at the Chicago Defender website.

[C]onsumers buying milk produced by cloned cows or their offspring won't know it because, on Dec. 28, the FDA announced that products from cloned animals are safe to eat.

Products from cloned animals would not be specially labeled because the FDA does not view them as different products, the agency states on its Web site. "There is no science-based reason to use labels to distinguish between milk derived from clones and that from conventional animals."

Yes, that does seem to be the opinion of everyone in the scientific community. But fear of science is everywhere. Life isn't perfect, there's e-coli in the spinach, and science is to blame.

[G]rocery store clerk Devyn Slemp of Sycamore said she wouldn't buy milk from cloned animals. "I would be kind of afraid to drink it."

Thinking most consumers agree with Slemp, several dairy processing companies have said they will not buy milk from cloned cows even if the FDA approves its sale. The largest U.S. milk processor and distributor, Dean Foods Co. of Dallas, announced Feb. 23 that it won't buy milk that has come from cloned cows. Dean also owns Land O'Lakes and Horizon Organic.

The makers of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, based in Vermont, oppose using milk from cloned animals, and are advocating against it on the company Web site.

To be fair, here is the Ben & Jerry's anti-clone page. Some concerns are mentioned near the bottom, but no actual evidence against milk from cloned animals is given.

What you do find prominently on the page is fear. Fear that something is happening not in peoples' control. Fear of something new. Fear of science.

Back to the original article:
Whether the cause for concern is real or due to fear has yet to be seen. "We need to be careful about hysteria about the unknown," said Rex Chisholm, director of the Center for Genetic Medicine at Northwestern University. "A lot of times when we make genetic changes we get unintended consequences," he said. "Our lives are full of unintended consequences."

Studies of public opinion on animal cloning and the food supply documented by the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers University suggests that the word cloning conjures up negative ideas of science fiction. Research indicates that most people know little about the science of cloning.

Chisholm thinks people should have more confidence in the process. If you handed over a glass of milk and "told me this is milk from a cloned cow, I wouldn't think twice about drinking it," he said.

Humans have been manipulating the genes in food for thousands of years, Chisholm said. Long before people knew what genes were, they selectively reproduced the plants and animals they preferred, altering their gene pools, he said. Current breeding techniques to reproduce prized cattle and bulls are not far from cloning, he added.

Although Chisholm supports use of the products, he is in favor of labeling the food from cloned or genetically modified animals, unlike the FDA. "When people use the products and find out they are no different than anything else, this whole thing will go away," he said.

Maybe. I don't believe it, but maybe.

You can have a say in all this. The FDA is accepting comments from the public through April 2. Go to the Draft Animal Cloning Risk Assessment Comment Page and click on "Submit Comment."

For more information, go to the FDA's Animal Cloning FAQ page or go here for the full report in .pdf format or here for a nine-page .pdf summary.

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