SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California's Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is being urged by Consumers Union to sign into law a bill passed by the state's legislature that would require labeling of meat and milk from cloned animals, but industry trade organizations are asking for a veto.
American Meat Institute, Washington, sees such labeling as “absolutely unnecessary,” while National Meat Association, Oakland, Calif., is looking to see whether voluntary labeling could be feasible, a spokesman there told SN.
But both organizations, along with California Grocers Association, have recommended that the governor veto the current bill, California Senate Bill 63.
At the retail level, opinions differ on labeling. One Midwest retailer, at the time the U.S. Food & Drug Administration released its preliminary “risk assessment” last December, said he believed cloning was safe, but did take issue with FDA's statement that labeling would be unnecessary because there is no difference in the composition of a cloned animal and one that's produced by other breeding methods. Consumers would want a choice, he told SN, and labeling would give them one.
But last week, one Pennsylvania retailer told SN that it's still too early for him to have formed an opinion on whether labeling meat from cloned animals and/or their progeny would be of any value to anyone.
“I have not heard that there's such product market-ready or even nearly ready, and by nature, we in retail address things as they become relevant,” said John Gerlach, meat buyer at three-unit Stauffers of Kissel Hill, Lititz, Pa. “At this point, I just haven't done enough research to have an opinion.”
Trade organizations have stated their positions on cloning and on labeling.
“AMI's position is that such labeling is absolutely unnecessary, because there is no difference between these animals and those produced by other breeding methods,” said Janet Riley, AMI's senior vice president, public affairs and professional development.
“Labeling them implies that there is a difference.”
Biotech groups claim that this would create an unfair distinction and “put California farmers at a disadvantage in trade with other states,” noted Dr. Barb Glenn, director of animal biotechnology at the Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization.
Sources told SN that while similar bills have been introduced in a few other state legislatures, most have died in committee. California Senate Bill 63, which would require meat and milk from cloned animals to be labeled as such, caught the attention of Consumers Union, which strongly supports it.
A recent Consumers Union poll shows 89% of respondents want such labeling, said Elisa Odabashian, director of the West Coast office of Consumers Union.
Recognizing that even without state requirements, many consumers may demand some type of labeling, a task force made up of cloning companies and representatives of trade and marketing groups is exploring that matter and other issues of concern to consumers.
“We are committed to finding a way to make voluntary labeling possible,” said task force member Jeremy Russell, who is also director of communications and government relations for NMA.
“Without an animal ID system to verify it, it isn't clear that such labeling is feasible, whether it's mandatory or not. That is why we're recommending that the California bill be vetoed.”
At the same time, Russell said, it would be very rare for cloned animals themselves to get into the market, because they're used for breeding and they're very expensive.
Russell, like Riley at AMI, stressed that he believes cloning is safe. “The FDA hasn't completely finished its risk assessment, but all indications are that they'll conclude there's no danger whatsoever for the consumer.”
But he said he wasn't surprised that many groups and consumers say they want labeling. “It has been our position that the market will decide whether consumers are at all interested in this.”