Answering Health Questions about Food Cloning


With the recent media hype surrounding the US government announcement on January 15, 2008 that food, including meat and milk products, from cloned animals and their offspring are safe for human consumption, nurses may face health questions from concerned patients looking to separate fact from fiction.

The Food and Drug Administration essentially ruled that healthy clones and their offspring of cattle, swine and goats show no greater health risk than their natural counterparts.  Those endorsing the use of cloning tout it for its ability to provide consumers with top-quality food by replicating animals containing the desired gene traits for further breeding.  This ruling allows producers to introduce clone-derived products into the food supply without requiring them to identifying that they use cloning processes.

The FDA is not the only world food organization to rule cloned foods safe for consumption.  During the week prior to the US announcement, the European Food Safety Authority made an interim ruling of the same conclusion.  The Canadian government is currently assessing the risk data.

While cloning itself is a highly sensitive area of debate, ruling in favor of its use in the food supply has raised a few eyebrows.  What does the current information tell us about the effect on the average consumer and the health concerns of our patients?  In reality, it is probably not as big of a concern as the media would have us believe.  Nor is there any immediate need for worry.

Firstly, cloning is an expensive venture carrying a price tag of about $20,000 per animal.  It is therefore much more likely that cloning would be used to reproduce elite breeding animals rather than those for general consumption.  However, it is possible that those few animals cloned for breeding may enter the food produce world after their usefulness in breeding has expired.  It is more likely to be the off-spring of a clone contributing food sources, rather than the original clone.

Secondly, the cloning process itself is still in the perfecting stages:  currently, cloned pregnancies result in more miscarriages, deformities and premature deaths than do other technologies.  Very few of the cloned animals currently survive to adulthood.

Even if cloning efforts for food production were to begin in earnest tomorrow, it would likely be four of five years before the first products made it to the consumer.  In that interim of time the debates, studies, and technology will continue to develop.

The FDA argues that cloned animals will be subjected to the same rigorous approval methods as any other food source.  Meaning, that they believe any possible health threat will be weeded out before it gets to the consumer’s shelves.  The reviewed studies also show that there has been no detectable difference between the health of animals fed on cloned food sources and those who are not.

The arguments against animal cloning generally center on the still unknown effects of long-term cloning practices.  It has been established that genetically diverse animals tend to be healthier and have greater natural immunity to illness.  A cloned animal may appear healthy, but there is always the chance of unintended changes and subtle hazards that may occur genetically over time.

Of particular concern is that cloned animals who survive to adulthood are more likely than their counterparts to have been exposed to excessive antibiotic use.  This is particularly disquieting when you consider possible long term complications.  Just as we are seeing an increase in the number of human illnesses that are resistant to antibiotics, animals exposed to antibiotics can develop the same types of resistances.  These anomalies can then be passed down genetically to the next generation or transferred to those consuming the animal meat or milk.

In the case of children or individuals with depressed immune systems, it might be prudent to advise them to choose “clone-free” meats and dairy products to avoid the possibility of further compromising their health.

In general, it is best to assure patients that if and when cloning becomes a mainstream practice among food producers, there will likely continue to be those who are not involved.  FDA labeling does not restrict the use of a “clone-free” label that many producers say they would most likely use.  Just as choosing to go “organic” is a consumer choice; “clone-free” is also a probable choice for the concerned consumer for health, religious, moral or ethical reasons.  In the mean time, research will continue and further answers will be reached before there is a general consumer availability of these cloned foods.



American Anti-Vivisection Society.  Fact Sheet on Cloning Animals For Food: Animal welfare and the FDA risk assessment.

DeNoon, D. J. FDA: Cloned Meat Safe.  WebMD Medical News.  December 28, 2006.

Hamilton, D. Antibiotic Debate Overview. Frontline.   WGBH Educational Foundation.  2002.

Mayers, P. and Beauvais, J.  Comments on the United States Food and Drug Adminitstration’s Animal Cloning: A Draft Risk Assessment.  Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada.  May 3, 2007.

Porter, D. FDA Says Cloned Animals for Food Are Safe: Health, Ethical and Moral Dilemmas.  Associated Content.  January 6, 2007.

Ryan, M.  US Gives Blessing to Food from Cloned Animals.  Reuters. Yahoo News.  January 15, 2008.

United States Food and Drug Administration.  Executive Summary of “Animal Cloning: A Risk Assessment”.  October 23, 2003.

Copyright 2008- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved


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