Would You Eat A Clone?

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If Don Coover had his way, you would already be ordering hamburgers made from ground cloned beef. Coover is one of scores of U.S. farmers who have taken the trend toward homogeneity in American agriculture to its logical extreme, duplicating--Dolly the sheep style--their best beef and dairy cattle. Working out of his Galesburg, Kans., ranch, Coover has sold more than 500 units of semen from five cloned bulls, each of them a near perfect genetic replica of a prize breeder known as Full Flush. Now their semen is impregnating cows across the U.S., spawning champion offspring that are, technically, half-clones. "This will revolutionize agricultural livestock," says Coover. "It's a lot easier to produce good meat if you have the right genetics."

Nobody knows for certain whether any of that meat has made its way to American dinner tables. In 2001, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked farmers to voluntarily refrain from marketing any meat or milk from cloned animals or their offspring until safety was proved. A 2002 National Academy of Sciences report found "no current evidence" that cloned-animal products were unfit to eat, but it recommended more study. In 2003, the FDA declared such products "likely" safe but did not make a final ruling.

If burger lovers haven't been demanding a decision, one reason may be what Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America calls the "yuck factor." A Gallup poll reported last year that 64% of Americans believe cloning animals is "morally wrong." An industry survey found that 62% of consumers would be reluctant to buy products made from cloned animals.

But pressure is building in the farmland for the FDA to lift its informal moratorium. Some 300 beef cows, 150 dairy cows, 200 pigs and several score of sheep and goats have been cloned in the U.S. Since no one is monitoring the situation, meat from their offspring may well have started trickling onto the market. "There's a lot of pent-up volume," says Scott Davis, founder of ViaGen, a biotech company based in Austin, Texas, that charges $15,000 to clone a cow and $4,000 for a pig. "A clone has to be bred for you to get back your investment." --By Margot Roosevelt