'Clone-Free' Milk Could Get Label

On a farm in Texas lives a cloned cow named Peggy Sue. Many consumers are leery about meat and milk products from cloned animals, and regulators have yet to rule. (By Carol Guzy/Post)
By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Responding to consumer queasiness about eating meat and drinking milk from cloned animals, and frustrated by continued delays in the government approval process, the nation's two largest cloning companies will today roll out a voluntary program aimed at helping shoppers avoid food from clones.

Meat and milk from the offspring of clones would, however, become part of the general food supply.

The new "supply chain management" system is built on the hope -- supported by a modest amount of data -- that people opposed to consuming meat or milk products that come directly from clones will accept food from their progeny.

The system calls for all cloned farm animals to be registered in a central tracking system and requires farmers who raise them to sign affidavits promising to keep them out of the food supply or to segregate their meat and milk so that other foods can be reliably labeled as "clone-free." Violators would face financial penalties.

Farmers have begun to acquire cloned animals with the expectation that the Food and Drug Administration will soon approve their use. For now, most do not intend to butcher or milk their clones, because the animals are too valuable for such ordinary use. Farmers see the clones as high-quality breeding stock.

But the industry hopes that as costs drop, the market for cloned foods will grow. Its willingness to accept labels on meat and milk stating that the products did not come from clones represents a significant concession to the retail reality that consumers remain uncomfortable with that prospect.

"It's not a safety or health issue; it's a marketing issue," said Mark Walton, president of ViaGen of Austin, which has been waiting years for the FDA to approve the sale of meat from its cloned cattle.

The industry move comes almost exactly a year after the FDA declared that it could find no scientific reason to prohibit the marketing of food from clones and their offspring. But political forces have stalled final approval, and other obstacles emerged this week as Congress crafted language aimed at further delaying FDA action.

An amendment to the Senate version of the farm bill, sponsored by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), calls for additional study. Language inserted in the omnibus spending bill, expected to pass last night, also calls for delays.

But the farm bill must be reconciled with a House version, which lacks the delay, in negotiations that will not occur until early next year. And the omnibus bill's provision is nonbinding.

That means the FDA has a small window this holiday season when it could use its authority to finalize last year's draft decision. That document recommended approving the unrestricted sale of milk and meat from both clones and their offspring.

Proponents of approval, including scientists miffed because they believe politics and public opinion have undermined the FDA's scientific review, are raising their profile. The Federation of Animal Science Societies, for example, is running an ad in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call today urging FDA final approval.

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