FDA disregarded results on food from cloned animals

Its own surveys showed that most people don't want to eat food from clones, and wouldn't feed it to their children, but the FDA still decided not to require labeling.

By Alex Koppelman
Published March 18, 2008 10:11PM (EDT)

In January, the Food and Drug Administration released a report concluding that food produced from cloned animals is as safe as food produced from ordinary animals, and decided against making the labeling of food from cloned animals mandatory.

But a report that was just released after a Freedom of Information Act request by a coalition of food safety groups reveals that focus groups conducted by the FDA showed that, regardless of the actual safety of cloned animals, the public doesn't want to eat food produced from clones. "More than half of the participants across the board said that they would not want to eat food derived from animal clones, [and] those participants who have children said that they would not give such food to their children," the report says.

Now, you can certainly make an argument that if food from cloned animals is safe, there's no reason for the public to be informed about what they're eating -- clearly, that's the FDA's contention, one shared by plenty of scientists. But the FDA's results also showed that most people don't want to consume that kind of food, and none of the people in the focus groups would give it to their children. So, in that case, don't consumers have a right to know what they're really buying? (Separately, activists also point out that if health problems eventually do arise from the consumption of products from cloned animals by humans, a lack of labeling will hinder efforts to trace the problem back to its source.)

In a statement, Rebecca Spector of the Center for Food Safety said, "Surveys have repeatedly shown that consumers don't want food from cloned animals. This just-released information shows that FDA knew from their own two-year-old study that the public did not want food from clones, and wanted labels on milk or meat from clones so that they could avoid them. We currently have an FDA that that no longer acts in the public interest. In fact, they show a complete disregard for public opinion."

Another interesting thing we noticed in reading the full FDA report was a distinct bias in the selection of focus group participants. Potential participants were given a screening in which they were asked, generally, if they had worked for a "consumer advocacy organization." The recruiting criteria given also specifically banned anyone who'd ever belonged to or had an immediate family member who'd ever belonged to the Humane Society, PETA, Green Peace or Friends of the Earth. Vegetarians and those who eat organic foods exclusively were also eliminated. Similarly, anyone who'd worked for a market research firm or certain government agencies was excluded, as was anyone who had worked for or had an immediate family member who'd worked in the medical field, the biological sciences, the food-processing industry or livestock breeding or raising.

And yet the criteria said nothing about anyone who'd worked -- or, let's not forget, had an immediate family member who'd ever worked -- for one of the many industry advocacy groups (or industry-funded groups) that work against regulation, like the American Council on Science and Health, the Competitive Enterprise Institute or Consumer Alert. Strange how that works, huh?

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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