Clone on the Range

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

WHEN YOU TRY your first clonedog, you might not even notice. The Post's Rick Weiss reported Monday that the Food and Drug Administration is expected to vouch this week for the quality of meat and dairy products from cloned animals and their offspring. So far, ranchers and breeders have voluntarily kept food from such animals off of Americans' dining room tables. That will probably change soon.

A recent poll by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology indicates that a majority of Americans get queasy at the thought of clonal animal products lining supermarket shelves. But to its credit, the FDA stuck to the science -- the great bulk of which supports its reported conclusion.

In a study set to be published in January, scientists at the Agriculture Department's Meat Animal Research Center raised over 400 animals -- more than half of them offspring of clones -- in identical conditions. An independent lab scrutinized more than 14,000 characteristics of the animals' meat composition and health, and only one animal returned results considered abnormal. This mirrors the findings of other studies.

Cloning animals with superior genetics will make animal products better and less expensive. Breeders aim to grow genetic twins of animals with desirable traits -- such as leaner, tastier meat -- in order to breed them and improve herds over generations. The only difference between this technique and traditional animal husbandry is the production of a genetic copy at the outset. As more high-quality breeding stock becomes available, the value of such animals will decrease, lowering production costs. Americans who don't want to eat animal products made this way will undoubtedly have the opportunity to do so through niche producers.

Opposition to the cloning of livestock has proved powerful. The International Dairy Foods Association helped delay FDA action for years out of fear that American dairy goods would become less attractive abroad. According to the Pew poll, a large number of Americans object to animal cloning out of religious concerns, views that anti-cloning groups will no doubt exploit to distract the public from the scientific evidence. But the FDA's job, in this as in other matters, is to fairly assess the science.

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