SAN FRANCISCO — Legislators in California may soon decide how to point out food items made from cloned animals, regardless of U.S. regulators. If successful, the move would be the first state law in the country governing the way such products could be sold.
The bill, introduced in the state Senate by Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, would require labeling of meat and milk from cloned livestock, or their offspring. Migden said that consumers should be able to make informed decisions about what they're eating.
The bill comes in response to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's preliminary determination that cloned animal products are safe for human consumption. The FDA currently has no regulations regarding labeling of clone-derived foods.
“Sen. Migden, recognizing that the FDA is moving toward formally finding that meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs and goats are safe for human consumption, wants to ensure that consumers know what it is that they are purchasing when they go to the grocery store,” said Hallye Jordan, spokeswoman for the senator, who was not available for comment.
“We label fruits and vegetables and other meats to show their country of origin,” Jordan said, referring to the industry campaign to require produce and meat companies to identify products by country of origin. Right now, that law is on hold until 2008, after President Bush agreed to delay implementation of all items except seafood.
Many retailers were reluctant to comment on the cloning labeling issue. A spokeswoman for Wild Oats Market, Boulder, Colo., told SN the chain of natural food stores has decided it will not sell meat from cloned animals and is working with vendors to include the provision in the company's standards.
“Therefore, in general, we believe it would be important to require producers to disclose whether a meat product was derived from cloned animals, as consumers have the right to know how their food was produced and where it came from,” spokeswoman Sonja Tuitele said.
Other retailers expressed similar opinions.
“My biggest objection is that special labeling would not be required,” Jack Gridley, meat and seafood director at upscale Dorothy Lane Market, Dayton, Ohio, said in an article published in SN earlier this month. “I think consumers will want a choice, and should have one.”
Late last month, the FDA released a preliminary report that said meat and milk from cloned animals is safe for people to eat. The agency defined a clone as a genetic copy of a donor animal that is like an identical twin, but born at a different time.
“We think that there is a difference between the cloned animals and regular animals,” said Elisa Odabashian, director of the West Coast office of Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports magazine.
“The FDA's analysis is based on very slim clinical trials and testings, and there needs to be much more significant testing on the difference between the two.”
Consumers Union is taking the position that there is more benefit to producers and no benefit to consumers from cloning, Odabashian said.
“We just think that people should know what they're buying and to not label it precludes our ability to know if the product is causing illnesses,” she said.
Consumers Union approached Migden about proposing the legislation. The consumer rights group plans to submit formal comments to the FDA during the public comment period, which will remain open through April 2.