Attack of the Clones
By Andy Hanacek, executive editor
I’ve always been fascinated by all things science fiction. I’m no Star Trek Convention attendee or anything of that magnitude, but I’ve read Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time,” my favorite book is Kurt Vonnegut’s “The Sirens of Titan,” and sci-fi channel-flipping is a common pastime.
So the recent FDA report on the safety of meat and milk from cloned animals and their offspring struck a chord. I’ve been peripherally intrigued by cloning for a long time — in eighth grade, for example, I wrote a humorous sci-fi story about the creation of 10,000 clones of a friend of mine and the horrible hijinks that ensued upon the simultaneous release of all these clones, titled “10,000 Adolfs.” Furthermore, Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” fascinated me when it was a good book (before it became a science-ignoring mess of a blockbuster movie).
But I digress. What does the ruling mean to the meat and poultry industry? As of now, it’s hard to say. The ramifications are so uncertain, particularly in the minds of consumers. Consider the following research from “CLEAReport: Consumer Attitudes on Cloned Food January 2008” — a Clear Seas Research study from Jan. 21-23, 2008, shortly after the FDA’s announcement on the topic.
Approximately 16 percent of those surveyed believe cloned food is safe. Another 6.6 percent take the opposite position, believing cloned food is unsafe. That leaves a large sector (77.8 percent) of the sample unsure about the safety of cloned food.
A sample of the follow-up answers given by those unsure about the safety of cloned food appears mostly based on the simple fact that not enough research and science is available to prove that cloning is, indeed, safe over the long term.
The meat industry, no doubt, has its hangups as well. Case in point, in a Jan. 13, 2008, article in The Chicago Tribune on the very topic, the strongest vote of confidence (and it wasn’t very strong) for cloning by any source came from a Kraft spokesperson saying that the company defers to the FDA’s judgement on the safety of cloning in the food chain — following that statement with an addendum regarding the need for consumer acceptance to be considered as well.
I’m certainly not accusing anyone of not taking sides on the issue — I myself am also undecided, and probably will remain so. A friend of mine asked me if they put a steak in front of me and told me it was from the offspring of a cloned animal, would I eat it? Of course, that friend wryly smirked at me, knowing that I wouldn’t have a solid answer.
“I probably would have an inner war,” I said.
“How so?” he said.
“The practical voice would tell me not enough is known about this,” I continued, “while the adventurous voice would tell me how cool it would be to say I ate ‘cloned meat.’”
It’s the same battle I suspect a large sector of the population will fight in the years ahead. Much like me, many consumers will probably try one bite, one time, to see what the fuss is all about — just don’t ask me to do so for a few years.