I should know. A couple of years ago, my cattle business took a big hit because Japan banned imports of U.S. beef, on account of an isolated case of mad-cow disease in North America.
Japan’s reaction was an over-reaction based more on fear than science. I could say an awful lot of things about it, but at least one fact is indisputable: The Japanese would rather be safe than sorry.
That’s why I was so encouraged to read the news last week that Japan is preparing to approve the commercial sale of food produced from cloned animals. If its risk-averse regulators were less than 100-percent satisfied about matters of safety and public health, they simply would not have come to this decision.
They certainly aren’t afraid to impose bans, as U.S. beef producers have learned the hard way. This time, however, the Japanese have practically burst into song: Send in the clones!
The Japanese Food Safety Commission now joins government agencies in the United States and Europe in saying that food from cloned animals is nothing to worry about. Specifically, Japan said that meat and milk from cloned cows and pigs are just as safe as meat and milk from non-clones. There is absolutely no difference in quality. Later this year, commercial products are expected to reach grocery stores and restaurants in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Cloning is not science fiction. To be sure, the science is still young. The public doesn’t understand it very well. Alas, ignorance isn’t always bliss.
In reality, cloning represents an important new reproductive technology. It seeks to achieve the same goal as the first herdsman who decided that he wanted his animal breeding to be something other than completely random. In other words, it strives to duplicate desired traits using the best information and techniques available.
Over the years, more advanced methods of animal reproduction have presented themselves, such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer. The first sophisticated experiments with cloning go back a generation. Since then, scientists have learned quite a bit. They’ve become so proficient and safety-conscious that cloning has finally arrived at a point where it may begin to affect consumers directly.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Academy of Sciences have reviewed cloning extensively and declared it to be safe. More than ten federal laws govern animal cloning, including the Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act and the Animal Health Protection Act. Independent researchers at universities also continue to study the practice.
As the technology of cloning matures, it will make our food cheaper, tastier, and even safer. Food will become less expensive because although cloning is costly right now, over time it will improve production efficiencies. These savings will trickle down to consumers. At a time of rising food prices amid a prolonged global recession, who can’t see the value of that?
Food will become more delicious, too, because market-minded producers will want to meet consumer demand with high-quality products. The quality, consistency, and taste of our meat inevitably will improve.
Finally, and most importantly, food will become safer because cloning will enhance animal management and traceability. Our trade partners like Japan prefer to know the age of the animals from which their meat comes, even the day and hour of birth. Cloning allows for this traceable advantage of maturity and meat quality. Healthy meat and milk begin with healthy animals, and cloning will increase our ability to make sure that the sources of what we eat and drink are strong and vibrant.
Cloning may even lead to environmental benefits, especially if it helps preserve rare animal species threatened by extinction. This is biotechnology in the service of biodiversity.
Public-opinion surveys have shown that many people are uncomfortable with animal cloning, in large measure because they simply don’t understand it. Surveys show, however, that with good information they come to appreciate the benefits of cloning and they will change their minds. At least they should. If they don’t, it will be because those of us who know the truth have failed to do our job.
Carol Keiser owns and manages cattle feeding operations in Kansas, Nebraska and Western Illinois. Mrs. Keiser is a Truth About Trade & Technology board member. (www.truthabouttrade.org)