Thursday, December 28, 2006

To Clone or Not to shouldn't even be a question.

Yesterday in the New York Times, Marian Burros wrote about the Politics of Food and how in 2006 people (aka consumers) became more in touch with their food. Today, it was announced that the FDA was about to approve the sale of meat from cloned animals (remember Dolly the sheep). They claim that it is just as safe as meat from non-cloned (naturally procreated) animals. Maybe, maybe not. The real question, or quandary, is how far we want to be pushed away from our food system just to serve the greater interests of global agribusiness.

Having just read Ominovore’s Dilemma and been a farmer for more than half my life, many of Michael Pollan’s feelings about killing something with a face hit very close to home. I too have killed many an animal destined to be dinner. It is not easy. But at least you have that visceral connection to what you are about to eat, and that’s important. The point being that this latest annoucement moves us ever closer to a global food machine with which we have absolutely no connections remaining.

We already have an immense number of negative issues in our global food system. Most of which can be overcome with a variety of remedies. But now the FDA is presumably going to allow genetically identical animals to be butchered for general sale. That means, they will all have the same defects, as in the same susceptibility to pests. And because they will have the same susceptibility that means most likely they’ll get stronger more frequent doses of antibiotics to fight the diseases that could now spread easily from one animal to the next because they have no genetic diversity (or very little). More antibiotics is not good for the person about to chow down, but it is also not good for environment as it only ensures a more virulent population of bacteria running around.

The issue I have is not about creating a cow in a Petri dish using a unique egg and fertilizing with unique sperm, or even artificial insemination. It is about taking genetically identical cells from a single animal and turning them into an animal destined for your dinner table. The Bush administration won’t even allow this type of process to be used to help fight human diseases and defects because he feels it is unethical.

Evolution is what it is because of genetic diversity. Nature has chosen to not narrow the gene pool because a diverse gene pool means a stronger web of life. The FDA is now proposing taking a perfectly dysfunctional food system and weakening it even further. At some point something is going to give in a big way. For me, I’ll continue to eat my beef from Slope Farms and my chickens from Cooper’s Ark. I know the farmers. Heck, I may have even known the animal. Mostly, I know they were healthy, happy animals bred and raised in a natural environment, not a test tube. And they taste great! Know Your Roots.

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Anonymous Pete said...

Very emotive, but no real argument against cloning there. The argument against overdosing with antibiotics is persusasive, and as a nurse I've seen the exact problem occur in humans [MRSA], but to be honest, it doesn't matter wether you clone or not from that point of view. Is there a real difference between breeding a good stock of cattle, and cloning a few copies of a good cow?

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Blogger Mike Biltonen said...

There is a real difference between cloning and traditional breeding. The basic nature of cloning is to create genetically exact copies of whatever it is that you're cloning. When you clone something in a genetically exact manner, you bring all the attributes of that individual along the way: good, bad, and the resistance/sensitivity attributes. Since 70% of all antibiotics used in the US end up in animal feed, and if we create genetically identical strains of any animal, then they will all be equally resistant/sensitive to antibiotics. And since the nature of antibiotics is to select for virulent populations of bacteria, eventually we'll end up with 100% resistant bacterial populations. The only recourse is to use stronger and stronger antibiotics, threatening to spin the whole thing out of control. Eventually, people eat this meat or drink the milk that is heavily laden with extremely powerful anticbiotics. Not a scenario I wish to entertain.

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