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Experts Debate: Is meat from cloned animals safe to eat?
(Click here to skip introduction and go straight to debate.)


On January 15, 2008, the FDA announced that meat from cloned cows, pigs and goats was safe to eat. But the USDA asked companies not to put it on the market yet because the public was afraid of it. Oh, and actually, said the FDA, newborn cloned cows “may pose some very limited human food consumption risk.” And sheep weren’t approved.


Cloning opponents were up in arms, claiming the FDA came to its conclusion too quickly.

But proponents said, calm down. Meat from cloned animals is the same as from non-clones. It’s cloning. Besides, farmers don’t even want to put it on the market. That’s expensive! They want to sell clones' offspring.


Fast-forward to today. Meat from clones' offspring is on the market. It’s been there for a while—even before 2008. We just don’t know where it is because it’s not labeled and no one’s keeping track of it. (Though organic meat is not supposed to be clone-related.)

Meat from the clones themselves, however, shouldn’t be on the market, if everyone’s sticking to the voluntary hold-off. “The moratorium was asked for by USDA for an orderly transition to market,” Leah Wilkinson, spokeswoman for the cloning company ViaGen, told My Family Doctor. “We are constantly communicating with the industry to ensure the orderly transition.”

Researchers have done no long-term studies on eating cloned animals, according to the FDA. But that doesn’t worry them. “Cloning doesn’t put any new substances into an animal, so there’s no ‘new’ substance to test,” says the FDA Web site. And, Wilkinson pointed out, “The risk assessment was conducted by FDA over a seven-year period and consisted of over 400 studies that were reviewed.”

We turned to two experts and asked, bottom line, is meat from cloned animals safe? You can get in on the debate here.

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Argument: Meat from cloned animals is safe to eat.

Yes. That is what all of the studies done to date show.

A clone is an exact genetic copy of a plant or animal. The cloning process does not introduce any new genes, and so there is no fundamental reason to suspect that clones would not be safe to eat.



Alison Van Eenennaam, Ph.D., animal genomics and biotechnology specialist, University of California, Davis; Ph.D. in genetics.

The primary concern is that the cloning process might result in subtle changes in food composition that could pose food-consumption risks. But the data do not show that to be the case. Studies from several independent laboratories located in different countries examined the composition of products derived from animal clones. They all found that there were no biologically significant differences in the composition of milk or meat from cloned animals, as compared to their non-clone counterparts.

Federal and state regulations require that for milk and meat to enter the food supply, it must be derived from healthy animals. Cows produce milk following the delivery of a calf. By definition therefore, milk comes from animals that have reached puberty and been able to successfully reproduce. Clones that reach reproductive age appear to be normal in all ways.

After years of detailed study and analysis outlined in a 900-plus-page report, the FDA concluded in 2008 that the meat and milk from clones of cattle, pigs and goats, and the offspring of clones from any species traditionally consumed as food, were as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals.

We eat food from cloned organisms every day. Many fruits and vegetables (such as bananas) are produced asexually (in other words cloned). Cloning doesn’t introduce any new substances into food; by definition clones are exact genetic copies! Milk and meat from healthy animals is safe to eat. The data show that milk and meat from clones is similarly safe to eat.

Argument: We don't know whether meat from cloned animals is safe to eat.

The safety of meat and milk from clones is unproven.

The FDA approved food from cloned cows, pigs and goats after reviewing very few and small studies. The largest study (on cloned cows’ milk) used only 15 animals but found significant differences in cloned animals’ milk.

Only one study assessed the toxicity of cloned products: Twenty rats ate meat and milk from clones for 14 weeks. The rats had significant immune-system changes.

Most beef studies found differences in clones’ meat composition; both pork studies found significant differences. These small sample sizes would not be adequate to assess a new drug; they cannot assure the safety of meat or milk from clones. Nevertheless, at the end of the Bush administration, the FDA hurriedly approved clones.

Most clones die before birth or in the first few weeks of life. Cattle clones often suffer “large-offspring” syndrome, wherein the fetus grows twice as large as normal, sometimes causing death for both the cow and calf. The surviving calves are often sicker than ordinary calves.

Some studies found that defects in clones could pass down to offspring. The data on cloned pigs’ offspring display troubling findings: smaller litters, slower growth, 25 percent of progeny dying, and an abnormality rate two-and-a-half times that of normal pigs.

The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies says the risks of negative effects are grave enough to keep cloned products off the European market. Most people in multiple polls say they don’t want to eat food from clones. The few who would risk it still want it labeled. The National Organic Standards Board has rejected clones and their offspring for organic products. The largest dairy company in the United States has said it won’t buy cloned cows’ milk. The largest meat packers won’t buy cloned animals’ meat.

hands pulling rope

Consumers don’t want food from clones. Companies pledging not to buy products of clones include: Kraft Foods; General Mills; Gerber/Nestle; Campbell Soup; Gossner Foods; Smithfield Foods; Ben & Jerry’s; Amy’s Kitchen; California Pizza Kitchen; Hain Celestial; Cloverland, Oberweis, Prairie, Byrne, Plainview and Clover-Stornetta Dairies; PCC Natural Markets; Albertsons; Supervalu; and Harris Teeter.

Unlike plants, mammals don’t clone naturally; embryo engineering is required. Most of the 900-plus pages reviewed by FDA were company data on only a few animals, not independent studies. While the FDA approved clones, the USDA asked cloning companies to keep clones off the market.
Van Eenennaam's

The topic under discussion is the safety of cloned meat. Numerous studies, evaluated in an extensive and hardly “hurried” 968-page FDA report, identified no subtle hazards that might indicate cloned-meat-consumption risks. There are no studies that demonstrate otherwise.

The FDA’s assessment that clones do not pose food-safety concerns is shared by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and also the European Food Safety Authority, which concluded, “it is very unlikely that any difference exists in terms of food safety between food products originating from clones and their progeny compared with those derived from conventionally bred animals.”

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Click here for more debates!

Last updated and/or approved: February 2010. Original article appeared in September/October 2009 print issue .

Comments (6)add comment
Cloned food
written by Mariana , May 01, 2012

This days we don't know what we're eating.Cientifics are cloning animals, vegetales, grains and fruits and there are not labels specifying it. I believe we, the consumers have the write to know and choose if we want to go natural or cloned food.
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this is stupid
written by ricky , April 28, 2012

why cant anyone just give me the pros and con of cloned meat in resturants
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written by Joey , February 22, 2012

trololololololol it is food and none have died of it yet have they? Cloning could be the answer to world hunger...
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written by kati , January 12, 2012

I think cloning is rediculous it takes just as long to have a natural born animal produced i could see colning being a good thing when giving food to those who need it and if it was being produced faster but fact is its not it takes just as long if not longer than having two animals produce the natural way that we KNOW is safe.
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written by Mariana , November 14, 2011

It is dam to be eating clon food when we can eat natural,healty food. All this cloning marer is against the nature, and we humans are the esence of nature. By cloning we are going against our slves. I can bisualise the future with so many anknown deseases, por people, we are destroying our world and our healt. PLEASE SOMEBOBY STOP THE DESTRUCTION.
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cloned meat is it safe?
written by Sarah Lentz , April 21, 2011

i dont know too much about cloning but i do know is that some of these scientists need to try it more because they need more info for people who arent on their side with cloning. I am in seventh grade we had a digital doc*mentary due in science we had to choose a big topic. Our group chose to do cloning so we had to do a few little topics inside of it and one of them was meat and clones is it healthy and safe. we found that since 2008 people have been eating cloned meat we googled how many people got sick from this we couldnt even count the number of pop up reviews. So if you can just send me back i am in class right now so just i would like to know some more info on clonoing. Oh and can you send me some things too like cloning pics or any thing you can send in a package i will give you my addres later. thanks
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