Cloned Animals and Cloned Food Products
By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine
Remember Dolly the sheep? She was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult stem cell – and the birth of this little lamb was highly controversial. Since then, the stem cell debate has moved from sheep to humans. But cattle, pigs and goats have quietly been cloned when we weren’t watching. Helping to keep it under wraps was the FDA, which called for a voluntary – and temporary – moratorium against bringing products from cloned animals to market.
But now the FDA, in its infinite wisdom, has announced that milk and meat from cloned animals and their offspring are just as safe to eat as milk and meat from conventionally bred animals, despite a lack of airtight evidence. Excuse me?
What You Don't Know
Once again, it looks like the FDA is putting the profits of big corporations before its obligations to protect the public and food supply. It also looks like the agency’s move contradicts congressional legislation that calls for further research and analysis before cloned meat and dairy products are allowed into grocery stores.
One of the most worrisome things about food from cloned critters is the FDA’s decision not to require labeling of cloned food products. That means there won’t be any way to know what you’re buying. More importantly, there won’t be any way for the government to track products if problems develop.
There are currently only about 600 cloned animals in the U.S. Because they are expensive to produce, they are used almost exclusively for breeding purposes – at least for now. But their offspring likely will be used for food a few years down the road. And, like genetically modified foods, consumers will have no way of knowing whether or not they are buying cloned food until it’s nearly impossible to buy anything else.
What Me Worry?
This move to approve food from cloned animals sounds oddly like the same shell game the government and corporations played with genetically engineered plants. The difference, however, is that a clone isn’t genetically engineered since nothing about the animal’s DNA is altered.
Basically, a clone is a genetic carbon copy of a donor animal. In other words, it’s like identical twins, except that the twin is born at a different time than the original. DNA from an unfertilized donor egg is injected into an egg that’s had its nucleus removed. In the lab, the egg is stimulated to grow and form an embryo, which is then transplanted into a surrogate mother who gives birth to the clone after a normal gestation. To date, the practice is successful only about three percent of the time.
More often cloning attempts have ended badly. Reports of abnormalities, higher disease susceptibility and the early deaths of clones have prompted many of the concerns about using their milk and meat. Some of these abnormalities result from slight changes that occur when the DNA from the cow to be cloned is being read and translated by the egg cell from another cow into which it is implanted. So even if clones are genetic replicas, they aren't quite identical to the original donor.
One Last Thing ...
Not all food companies embrace animal cloning. In fact, a number of food companies promise that they will not use cloned meat and milk in their products. For instance Smithfield Foods has publicly stated that it has no plans to produce meat products from cloned animals since the science is still relatively new. But a consumer wandering the supermarket aisles won’t have a clue what is and what isn’t from cloned animals.
Perhaps the only way to make sure you’re not getting meat or milk from clones is to go organic. Current federal organic regulations specifically disallow cloned animals. but not their offspring. The National Organic Standards Board is now working to remedy that. Stay tuned.
This Just In ...
If you think you can’t handle milk, here’s some good news. Lactose intolerance is often misdiagnosed and confused with a milk allergy, which is far more serious. While it’s common to hear someone say they are lactose intolerant, the condition actually occurs less often than you might think.
Lactose is a type of sugar found only in milk and milk products. In the body, it’s broken down by an enzyme in the intestinal tract called lactase. Production of this enzyme is highest in infancy and then drops sharply at about three to five years of age, resulting in a reduced ability to digest lactose. What happens after that is often misunderstood.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that as many as 50 million Americans have low lactase levels. And many of them are minorities. In fact, low enzyme levels occur in only 15 percent of Caucasians, but in more than 50 percent of Hispanics, 80 percent of African-Americans, 90 to 100 percent of Asians and 100 percent of Native Americans. Yet studies show that only a small number of people, regardless of ethnic background, actually experience the hallmark symptoms of lactose intolerance – flatulence, bloating, cramps and diarrhea – after ingesting dairy products.
Part of the widespread misconception relates to the term “lactose intolerance.” Many doctors incorrectly use the term to refer to both low lactase levels and the symptoms that can occur from consuming dairy foods. Plus, lactose intolerance isn’t an all-or-nothing condition. Even if you experience a bout of abdominal discomfort after drinking milk, it doesn’t mean you have to swear off milk completely or even that you will experience symptoms the next time you drink milk.
That’s an important point to remember, because avoiding dairy can cause you to miss out on vital nutrients. Dairy products provide calcium, vitamin D, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium – nutrients that are valuable not only for maintaining good health, but for staving off chronic diseases as well.
Experts link low-fat dairy foods with lower blood pressure, stronger bones, reduced risk of colon cancer and better weight management. That’s why the Dietary Guidelines recommend three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy a day. Moreover, the lactose in dairy products enhances calcium absorption.
What’s most important for lactose tolerance may be a consistent intake of the milk sugar. Folks who have consistently consumed dairy foods usually don’t have a problem tolerating foods that contain lactose. But people who have stayed away from milk for several months or years and then reintroduce it into their diets may have to watch their lactose intake more carefully.
Gradually adding dairy foods back into your diet can improve your tolerance. In one study, African-American teenage girls were given a dairy-rich diet with 33 grams of lactose daily. Each day they measured lactose digestion with a hydrogen breath test and after 21 days found it had increased significantly. And yet the girls reported minimal or no gastrointestinal symptoms.
A big barrier to downing more dairy may not be the physical symptoms, but preconceived expectations. Sometimes, just thinking you have lactose intolerance can produce symptoms. In one study, 45 people who had trouble digesting lactose were given either lactose-free milk or regular milk. Almost one-third of the volunteers reported symptoms after drinking both types of milk, whether it contained lactose or not.
If you want to give dairy another go, try foods with low lactose levels like yogurt or hard cheese. And start small. Most nutritionists recommend half-cup portions to start, and then work your way up from there once your body adjusts. If you spread your dairy intake throughout the day, you may be able to reach three cups a day without a problem.
If you discover that you are one of the few who are truly lactose intolerant, explore the world of soy. These days you can find a wide variety of tasty dairy substitutes including soy milk, soy cheese, soy yogurt and even soy ice cream. Enjoy!
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“Transcript of FDA Press Conference on FDA Announcement of Final Cloning Risk Assessment.” 2008 Jan 15. www.fda.gov/