Precisely a year ago, the calf Dundee Paradise joined Dolly the sheep as a popular icon of the biotech era, when the BBC reported that cloned animals are already present in European agriculture.
After pondering the question for six years, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will declare meat and milk from cloned animals equally safe to consume as from those that are bred conventionally. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is following and the Swedish National Food Administration has also pointed out that such food is safe.
Biotechnology in agriculture is also a safe way to stir up emotions, with cloned animals evoking the spectre of industrialized and artificial agriculture. Sweden's minister of agriculture, Eskil Erlandsson, stated that Sweden should reject cloned animals. Green Party MEP Carl Schlyter stated that the technology was an affront to public order and morality, and moves to permit the use of cloned animals should be tried in court. Jan Eksvärd of The Federation of Swedish Farmers, LRF, immediately issued a statement encouraging Swedish farmers to abstain from using cloned animals.
Cloning just means that an individual has the same genetic makeup as its parent, no more or less. Cloning is meant to be introduced for breeding purposes, in order to get predictably viable offspring. Using cloned animals for human consumption would simply be too costly. Even so called “conventional” breeding is today a highly structured affair where sperm from intensively bred bulls, rams, and boars are used to create multiple litters with in vitro fertilization. The difference is that despite the drawbacks of intensive breeding, it is accepted, while biotechnology is being demonized.
Sweden cannot ban cloning, as it would be a trade barrier the World Trade Organization (WTO) would not allow. There has therefore been a discussion that package labels and tracing should be introduced on cloned animals. But why is this deemed necessary? For consumers it is important to know if the food is safe, nutritious and inexpensive, but the form of production per se is not important. Labelling would add to the costs, while not providing a clear benefit.
Cloning offers us the opportunity for better milk, better meat, more efficient breeding and in the long run healthier animals while reducing costs. In order to acquire consumer acceptance, Swedish farmers should more carefully show how biotechnology provides consumer value. Biotechnology and cloning are increasingly becoming the standard in agriculture, and thus labelling should be used to mark food that has been produced without them.
Waldemar Ingdahl is president of free-market think-tank Eudoxa