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CU testimony on the “Cloned Food Labeling Bill”

Consumers Union Testimony on
Cloned Food Labeling Bill (SB 63)
California State Senate
Sacramento, April 11, 2007

Good afternoon. I am Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, which has 4 million print and 2.5 million web subscribers. I have also served on the FDA Food Advisory Committee, as well as the National Academy of Sciences Board on Agriculture. Consumers Union’s West Coast Regional Office is in San Francisco.
Consumers Union strongly supports SB 63 which would require milk and meat from cloned animals to be labeled as such. We believe that no new technology should be allowed for use in livestock unless it is proven safe for both animals and humans. In addition, when animals are created in such a radically new manner, they should be labeled.
Clone Safety
Cloning is clearly unsafe for animals. According to the US Food and Drug Administration’s Draft Risk Assessment, a majority of cloning attempts end in the death of the clone. Many clones have birth defects including anemia, deformed limbs and heads, polycystic kidneys, and lack of an anus. Those that survive often suffer from deficient immune systems and require large doses of antibiotics. At the very least, raising clones will necessitate greater use of antibiotics on food animals, worsening the existing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can infect and sicken humans. The National Academy of Sciences has expressed concern that clones might also spread bacteria like e coli 0157:H7, which has been plaguing the California leafy green industry.
Offspring of clones, although healthier, also exhibit abnormalities. In one study, pre-weaning death rates were 20 percent higher than for non-clones.
FDA’s Risk Assessment concludes that clones that survive to adulthood are safe to eat. However it bases this conclusion on the scantiest of data. According to our analysis, it has data on milk composition from only 43 cloned cows. For swine, it has data on meat composition for only 5 cloned pigs. FDA asserts that goat’s milk and cheese from clones are safe even though it has no data whatsoever on the composition of milk and meat from cloned goats.
Beyond these safety issues, polls confirm that cloning raises serious ethical and religious concerns for many Americans. In a 2002 Fox News poll, 71 percent indicated they thought it was not acceptable to reproduce livestock by cloning. In fact, 64 percent thought it was not even acceptable to use cloning to reproduce an endangered species. A poll by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology in 2006 found that 64 percent of Americans are uncomfortable with animal cloning. Only 22 percent were comfortable. However, FDA has indicated it is unlikely to require labeling.
Consumers may have concerns about the effects on cloning on animals, about the scantiness of data on cloned milk and meat safety, and about the ethics of cloning. In SB 63, California has an effective way to deal with public concerns. Consumers have a right to choose whether they eat milk and meat from cloned animals, and SB 63, by requiring labeling, will allow them to exercise that right. It also provides a way for markets to send a clear signal to producers about whether this is an innovation deserving of adoption.
We believe California has the authority, and indeed the obligation, to step in in situations like this where the federal government fails to take sufficient action to insure consumer choice. FDA does require labeling of irradiated food and frozen food, even though it has found them to be safe. However when FDA does not act, states often go beyond federal requirements. For example, Alaska requires labeling of genetically engineered fish, and Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi require catfish to be labeled as to whether they are farmed or wild. We urge the California Senate to pass SB 63, requiring labeling of milk and meat from cloned animals and their offspring.