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msnbc.com contributor
updated 1/15/2008 3:40:39 PM ET 2008-01-15T20:40:39
Commentary

The Food and Drug Administration has spoken: meat, milk, cheese and other products from cloned animals are safe to eat. And the federal agency won’t require any special labels identifying these products.

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There is no reason to doubt the FDA’s science. It is as careful a review as possible. The agency reviewed dozens of studies from around the world without finding any evidence that meat or milk from cloned animals is in any way biologically distinguishable from meat and milk from any other animal.

So is the debate over the use of cloned animals for food now over? Hardly.

We don’t chose what we eat based on science. If we did, we would not be in the middle of an obesity epidemic.

Food is about emotion. Food producers, manufacturers and sellers know that very well. That is why cookies are sold by elves, biscuits by a doughboy and oatmeal by an 18th century Quaker.

The food industry is not going to like the emotions surrounding cloning.

A survey conducted last year by the International Food Information Council found that only 22 percent of U.S. consumers had a favorable view of animal cloning. The proportion of people who said they would eat cloned animals if it were approved by the FDA rose to 46 percent. Still, not a number likely to bring a smile at Hormel, Jimmy Dean, Dannon, Kraft, Von’s, Giant or Nestle.

Cloning has gotten a bad rap in American society. It is the best means for scaring the daylights out of the American public short of making a movie or TV show about terrorism. We all know what clones do — at least on the big screen. They are monsters, fiends, reincarnated zombies, drones. Eat them? Hell you would not even want one standing in a field near you. No wonder why your poor deli manager is tied up in knots trying to figure out what to say when the day comes when customers ask if any of the products for sale are made from clones.

All of this fear-mongering about clones has made Americans forget that cloning is nothing more than artificially creating twins. It has made us forget that every drop of wine we drink comes from cloned grapes. It has made us ignore the fact that if you want to worry about what you are eating, you'd be better off wondering if the FDA has enough inspectors at meat plants looking for salmonella and E. coli.

But none of that really matters. If those farmers and grocers who want to make money using cloned animals really hope to sell Americans on cloned meat and milk, they’ll need more than the FDA's blessing. They had better be ready to tell the consumer, either through labeling or on a Web site, whether something comes from a clone.

Sneaking products from clones into the food supply will not work. Plenty of food suppliers will make sure there’s lots of clone-free food to appeal to the 50 percent of the public suspicious of it.

Transparency is not always the value that is used to sell food, but in this case safety is not enough. The consumer will have the last word. If the clones are to join us for lunch then we better know they are there.

Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

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