Safe as Potatoes

Hugh Pennington · Cloned Beef

The revelation that meat from the bulls Dundee Paratrooper and Parable has been eaten by people created a media storm this week. It happened because the animals were the offspring of the cloned product Vandyk-K Integ Paradise 2, a Holstein cow in Wisconsin. Particular outrage has been expressed by Compassion in World Farming, the RSPCA and the Soil Association. They have said that the cloning process causes animals to suffer, and have raised food safety concerns. The Food Standards Agency is the main regulator; it has pointed out that milk and meat from clones and their progeny is a 'novel food' and requires authorisation from them before it can be marketed. They say that this was never sought.

I have no doubt that the milk and meat from these animals was safe to consume. Even if they had been clones, which they were not, this would have been so. The cloning process adds no genetic information. Its purpose is to produce carbon copies of the single parent, which in this case was of the highest quality. But it is safe to say that the experience of those who unknowingly ate the meat will not be repeated any time soon. The Food Standards Agency will close the regulatory loophole with speed. The farmer in Nairn who bought the bulls has been left with 96 heifer yearlings sired by them. Their value is probably zero.

Clones are common in the natural world. They are the products of reproduction without sex. Most species, including roses, dandelions and seaweeds, propagate themselves this way. The biggest and oldest living organisms in the world are the very large clumps of bracken in northern European countries. They are giant clones. Many species propagated by cloning are eaten, such as potatoes, or are used in the preparation of processed food and drink, like the yeasts used by bakers, wine makers and brewers. So from a biologist's point of view the principle of cloning is validated by nature.

Just now we have a wider variety of food available at lower prices and of higher quality than ever before. But the row about the inadvertent consumption of two beef cattle this week came close on radio and television in rank order of presentation to the floods in Pakistan which have left thousands – whose diet was poor to start with – without any food at all. That's the real scandal.


  • 6 August 2010 at 12:34pm
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    Compassion in World Farming, the RSPCA and the Soil Association... have said that the cloning process causes animals to suffer, and have raised food safety concerns.
    Are you saying you want to discuss which is more important to regulate: an animal rights issue or world starvation? Why not put them both right?

    I have no doubt that the milk and meat from these animals was safe to consume.
    With respect, why should I take your word for it?

    cattle this week came close on radio and television in rank order of presentation to the floods in Pakistan... That’s the real scandal.
    Starving people is a scandal. Abusing animals is a scandal. Radio presentation order isn't a scandal.

    • 6 August 2010 at 3:54pm
      James Alexander says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      Never thought to quibble with AJP, but if I have to take anybody's word on the safety, I'll take Pennington's til I find a better. Can you falsify his reasoned case? But I don't think he has anything to say on "causes animals to suffer", and I'd like to hear something authoritative about that too.

      BBC Radio News presentation order is frequently scandalous - you could say outrageous, but that doesn't necessarily mean bad at the BBC these days. Yes, a lower order scandal than starvation, but connected and relevant to it; yesterday the Beeb, our very own radio station, was rating juicy courtroom revelations about Naomi Campbell's expensive gifts from an admirer more important than the Pakistan floods. Sorry, that is a scandalous atitude to the latter - from our national public voice.

    • 7 August 2010 at 10:35am
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ James Alexander
      I'm happy to quibble, it's a whole lot more productive than agreeing. Though in this case I'll just refer you to christian's & pinhut's comments.

  • 6 August 2010 at 3:06pm
    Christian Perfect says:
    It isn't quite as simple as saying that because cloning happens elsewhere in nature, so cloned beef is fine. The method used for cloning cattle hasn't been perfected yet, hence the animal rights groups' complaints about the number of miscarriages and deformed births before a healthy clone is produced. And when a healthy-looking clone is produced, it might still have some congenital disorders which would make it unsafe to eat. It almost definitely doesn't, but we have to check.

    (I am not a biologist, but I read a book once.)

    • 6 August 2010 at 4:47pm
      pinhut says: @ Christian Perfect
      No, somehow because something occurs in nature, when scientists do 'the same thing' (which they don't, they simply employ the same descriptor) then suddenly, magically, it is perfectly safe.

      It's the same with leaping. When I leap, somehow, magically, I am salmon-like, and therefore perfectly natural and 100% safe, and besides, somebody in the Yemen has no legs, look! And can't leap at all.

      That's the real scandal (the usual metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, as if the 'real' quotient of one event is dependent upon that of another, or, even better, how the two are presented)

    • 7 August 2010 at 12:57pm
      Geoff Roberts says: @ pinhut
      Good one! Scientists often try to explain things to us using metaphors and the like and this is a good example which you have pur the finger on.

    • 9 August 2010 at 2:04am
      outofdate says: @ pinhut
      Are you saying you're not 100 per cent natural and safe? That's the real scandal. (Sorry, I can't stop with the htmlitalics now I'm on to them.)

  • 8 August 2010 at 9:34pm
    Only Time will tell if the Cloning of our livestock is Safe.
    But I for one would not wont be part of the statistical test data.

  • 9 August 2010 at 2:01pm
    Georgia Catt says:
    Questions of media priority aside, consumers are right to be asking questions (as they have in the last week) about the news that cloned meat has entered the food chain.

    The cloning process which produced Vandyk-K Integ Paradise 2 is very different to that of cloning in the natural world and leaves many unanswered questions - both ethical and practical, as well as insufficient regulation around their production and use. Not only does cloning have a negative impact on animal welfare (the European Food Safety Authority concluded that the health and welfare of a significant proportion of clones has been found to be adversely affected, and the European Group on Ethics concluded that, considering the current level of suffering and health problems of surrogate dams and animal clones, they could find no ethical justification for cloning animals for food), we also have no long-term evidence for the impacts on health - both as consumers of meat and dairy products and on the health outcomes for the animals themselves. If cloned animals are entering the food chain without consumers being made aware of it then, as things stand, this is a triple whammy failure of labelling, welfare and health.

    Until these three issues are addressed, we’d rather that our food stays clone free.
    Georgia Catt, Soil Association, Bristol

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