Thursday, January 24, 2008

Some Thoughts on Cloned Meat

Bring in the clones.
You knew these were coming. Since the FDA approval, blogs and news sites are all hotly debating the safety of cloned meat and dairy products. A good round up of differing opinions can be found at Ethicurean. I agree, the safety of the consumption of cloned meat and milk should be carefully reviewed. Basically, it just ain't natch'ral.

This "ick" factor of the whole thing is disturbing, and as artificial a process of creation as so much of our other manufactured food supply. Which I also question regularly, and which has also been approved by the FDA.

But let's take a step back and look at the larger issue.
The "purpose" if you will behind cloning is to narrow the genetics of certain species for traits that are desirable to the food industry. Perhaps not me as a consumer, but we consumers seem to have lost our voice in how our food is produced. The process is designed to duplicate an exact set of genetics many times over into the species. In other words, limiting the gene pool. Decreasing diversity. Marrying your first cousin. [cue banjo music].

Even without the device of cloning, the diversity of our plant and animal food supply has been reduced by over ninety percent, 75 percent for plants alone, since the 1900s. GMO crops have created a "patent" system that profits from controlling diversity. Selective breeding practices have created turkeys that can barely stand on their own, much less breed naturally. All of this was done to serve the best interests of industrial agriculture.

Survival of the fittest is the best "biotechnology."
It doesn't take a biologist to recognize that this approach is not a good survival strategy. When forces of nature change the status quo, as they may well with climate change, there is little gene pool left from which nature (or man) can adapt.

Cloning is merely a mechanism, certainly a more powerful one than selective breeding and artificial insemination where you still have DNA from both parents. It will definitely speed up the process of limiting diversity. And it is that goal that should be questioned most of all.


foodperson said...

Well said, neighbor. I keep thinking "Irish potato famine" as a starting point, but no one "in charge" seems to care.

Melanie said...

In 2005 Dan Koeppel wrote an article for POPULAR SCIENCE about the fate of the banana. Here's a very short excerpt:

"That sameness is the banana's paradox. After 15,000 years of human cultivation, the banana is too perfect, lacking the genetic diversity that is key to species health. What can ail one banana can ail all. A fungus or bacterial disease that infects one plantation could march around the globe and destroy millions of bunches, leaving supermarket shelves empty."

It's an interesting article that discusses the financial and environmental impacts of an earlier "banana apocalypse."

It seems relevant now that the FDA has declared cloned meat and milk safe.

It's an interesting article if you can get your hands on it. The book, BANANA: THE FATE OF THE FRUIT THAT CHANGED THE WORLD is a result of said article.

Her Grace said...

Cloning scares me, a lot. And like Ali at Cleaner Plate Club said recently, what's scarier is that we don't even get a choice. There will be no way for us to know the difference.

Great post.

The Expatriate Chef said...

Well, there is one way. Buy your meat from a farmer you trust. Direct. Maybe you can even go to the field to see your beef being, uh, made, if you like. I've done that. I am getting a lunch box bought for the kiddo as well. You can find a search tool for local meat sources at Sustainable Table.

katiez said...

It seems strange that we have a big group of people trying to limit diversity (through cloning and GM), and a small group of people trying to bring it back (with heirloom plants and rare bread farm animals).
And we try to eliminate all of the good bacteria along with the bad (anti-bacterial soaps, etc)
We humans just can't seem to help trying to manipulate nature, can we?

The Expatriate Chef said...

I think the Native American approach of living in harmony with nature is a great lesson here. Diversity is critical. Creating a chicken and turkey that cannot even support its own breast weight is obscene, much less not be able to breed anymore.

Tim said...

You make some great points about cloned food. I just don't see the point in needing to clone meat. In any case, it needs to be labeled so we know it's cloned.