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Consumer education must precede sending in the clones

February 1, 2008
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In the past few weeks, I tried to put my finger on why the recent discussion of foods produced from animal cloning has me a little queasy. It may be because, just like the average American consumer, I don’t know much about the science behind it.

When the controversy concerning irradiated foods was front and center in the media some years ago, I had no problem accepting the technology or consuming the samples I received as a food editor. My acceptance of the technology was most likely because we covered the science of irradiation on the pages of Food Engineering each month, and I felt I understood the process.

To me, and many under-educated consumers, the word clone conjures up visions of science-fiction B-movie screenplays on creating the perfect child or tabloid stories about some Hollywood starlet paying big bucks to clone her long-lost, prized pet.

After a little research, the obvious became apparent. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that fruits and vegetables have been cloned for improvement and consumer enjoyment for hundreds of years just as animals have been bred for our benefit.

Clone-free labels may become a marketing badge of honor for the short-term, but as consumers become more educated and science becomes more sophisticated, I bet most Americans will feel comfortable with the idea.

Of course, with any new technology, there are unknown risks. The bigger question is whether the FDA, which has been under such scrutiny lately on its ability to keep the food supply safe, can meet the demands of regulating this new, modern era in food safety. I think it can be done, but not without more funding and increased resources.

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