Consumer market rejection seems to be the ongoing theme of U.S. food politics in the waning days of Bush’s inept Food and Drug Administration. Given FDA’s repeated failure to protect our nation’s food supply or to respond quickly and appropriately to outbreaks of food-borne illnesses, consumers have turned to food companies and demanded that they now take the lead in safeguarding our nation’s food.
Public opposition to milk and meat from clones has caused 20 major food companies, restaurants, dairies, and supermarket chains to refuse to produce, use or sell food from clones. These companies have taken action despite FDA’s claims that food from clones and their offspring is safe.
Last January, FDA announced that it would allow clones and their offspring to enter the food supply despite the lack of scientific studies available to prove that clones are safe for human consumption. The FDA won’t require any special procedures for tracking and handling food products from clones and their offspring or require product labeling. This unfortunate situation not only deprives people of their right to know the processes used to produce the milk and meat they consume, but it also deprives them of their right to choose or refuse such foods.
U.S. consumers are not alone in their opposition to food from clones. Yesterday, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for an E.U.-wide ban on the use of animal clones and their offspring in food. They also voted to prohibit the import of clones, their offspring, semen, embryos, and milk and meat derived from cloned animals or their offspring. In January, the European Group on Ethics released a report which stated that it didn’t see any convincing arguments to justify the use of cloning for food production, particularly given the suffering and health problems surrogates and clones experience.
Imagine a U.S. government agency calling for the prohibition of a food technology, staunchly supported by agribusiness, because it deems the technology “ethically questionable”! That resolution simply would never happen here, but that’s exactly what happened in Europe.
In this country, we have neither a standard nor a process for assessing the ethics or cruelty of a given food production technology. That’s not surprising given the fact that the U.S. leads the world in unencumbered and unregulated corporate behavior. For the most part, ethical considerations in food production are only taken into account if citizens manage to put them to a vote on a ballot initiative, like Californians did for this November’s election. If passed, Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, would halt the use of battery cages for laying hens, and crates for veal and pregnant and nursing pigs. Clearly, the FDA and USDA are not prepared to take this type of ethical action, so concerned citizens have no other choice but to put the issue to a vote and force companies to change their production practices through public mandate.
FDA’s failure to pursue its primary mission as protector of our nation’s food supply is also the reason why food safety, animal welfare, environmental, and consumer groups have decided to take matters into their own hands with respect to clones. This past May, the Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth began surveying companies about their position on clones. So far, 20 leading food processors, restaurants, retailers, and dairies have said that they won’t produce, use or sell milk or meat products from cloned animals. Action taken by these companies represents a growing industry trend of responding to consumer demands for better food safety, environmental protection, and animal welfare practices in the absence of FDA protections.
The list of companies rejecting clones reads like a page out of “Who’s Who” in the food industry: Kraft Foods, General Mills, Gerber/Nestle, Campbell Soup Company, Gossner Foods, Smithfield Foods, Ben & Jerry’s, Amy’s Kitchen, California Pizza Kitchen, Hain Celestial, PCC Natural Markets, Albertsons, SUPERVALU, Harris Teeter, and Clover-Stornetta, Oberweis, Prairie, Byrne, Plainview, and Cloverland dairies. Nine of these companies also refuse to use ingredients from the offspring of clones, while the other 11 remain silent on the issue. Those industry leaders include: Ben & Jerry’s, Amy’s Kitchen, Clover-Stornetta, Oberweis Dairy, Prairie Farms Dairy, Plainview Dairy, Gossner Foods, PCC Natural Markets, and Hain Celestial.
Obviously, the struggle to keep food from clones and their offspring out of America’s food supply is far from over. Since we can’t rely upon FDA to ensure safe food, it’s up to all of us to use our consumer power to keep our food and farm animals protected from the use of cloning technology.