051115 Americans Split Over Buying Cloned MeatNovember 5, 2005
Washington - Two-thirds of U.S. consumers said they would either buy or consider buying meat and milk made from cloned animals if the U.S. government declared cloning safe, according to the results of a public opinion poll released on Friday.
The survey was funded by Viagen Inc., a Texas-based company that is working with cloned cattle, pigs and horses.
About one-third of Americans surveyed said they would definitely buy food products from cloned offspring if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared the process safe. Another third said they would consider buying such products.
The remaining consumers surveyed said they did not want to eat food or consume other products from cloned animals.
"The word cloning ... is science fiction. It seems very futuristic," said Jennifer Sosin, president of KRC Research, the firm hired by Viagen to conduct the survey of 1,000 people.
"If I had guessed before doing research on it, I would have expected that the word alone would be enough to be far more negative" to the results, she said.
Cloning animals involves taking the nuclei of cells from an existing adult animal, and fusing them into other eggs that are implanted into a surrogate mother. The technology produces a biological copy of a normal animal.
One of the most famous cloned animals, Dolly the sheep, was the first mammal cloned from an adult cell and was born in 1996. Dolly was euthanized at the age of 8 because of a degenerative lung condition. The Catholic Church has theological qualms about cloning, and President Bush has said he worries "about a world in which cloning becomes acceptable."
Advocates of livestock cloning say it will improve the quality of steaks and dairy products by propagating the animals that are disease-resistant, give lots of milk or produce lean and tender meat.
But critics, such as the Humane Society of the United States, say there are too many unanswered questions about the safety of food from cloned animals and the possibility of chronic health problems with the animals.
The FDA in October 2003 issued a draft risk assessment saying food from cloned animals and their offspring was as safe as conventional food. But an FDA panel urged more research into new technology, delaying a final decision on selling food from cloned animals.
The agency is widely expected to lift its ban sometime in the next few months.
The KRC survey found 45 percent of consumers said they knew "nothing at all" about animal biotechnology, while 26 percent said they knew "a little" and 21 percent knew "some."
Sosin said other technologies, such as the genetic modification of corn and other food crops, were initially opposed by the public. For animal cloning to be accepted, consumers need to continue to trust the regulatory process of the U.S. Agriculture Department and FDA in addition to understanding why the technology is used, she said.
"If those two things are communicated and get through you'll have plenty of consumers going, 'OK, I may not love the word 'cloning,' I may be a little squeamish about it, but I'm not going to lose sleep over it,"' said Sosin.
The telephone survey was conducted on October 21 to 23. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.