Clone Soup

14 01 2008

 

By Jill Ettinger

“Flawed assumptions and misrepresented findings” is what the Center for Food Safety is calling a review of the FDA’s risk assessment on the effects of consuming foods produced from cloned animals. The non-profit agency’s concerns come as the FDA is expected to announce its approval for bringing cloned foods to market this week, though no long term research has been conducted. And though it will take several years to bring clone-produced foods to market, the go-ahead is wrought with controversy and consequences.

The principal behind cloning has good intentions: Find the best genetics and copy them, exactly. Theoretically, this is not necessarily a bad science; farmers have been hybridizing plants for millennia to produce the tastiest and heartiest crops. But genetic replication is a bit different. Instead of coercing a plant to grow tastier for example by introducing traits from other varieties, cloning is making a carbon copy of something believed to be the best possible choice – rather than a gradual evolution. An army of identical twins unleash themselves into the food chain, at once.

Imagine eating the same apple every day. Not the same kind of apple, but the same exact one. At some point, the probability that we are going to become deficient is likely. This is because humans have complex dietary needs that must be supported by foods varying in nutritional values. We are not panda bears sustaining solely on one food. Though it may seem as if it were a uniquely elite human characteristic, our wide-ranging osmic relationship to nourishment, which we often label as having a “gourmet pallet,” is actually designed to ensure we meet a variety of dietary requirements. Soil, where plant nutrients come from (whether we consume a plant product or transform it into an animal food) varies throughout seasons and regions. The effects of modern mono-cropping have had a serious impact on the nutritional value of food’s food, including the earth it grows in as well as other modern practices as ungraceful as dioxin-laced waterways, factory farmed animal excrement run-off and clear-cutting forests. All of these factors  contribute to the healthy or diseased food system we rely on.

Regarding essential nutritional characteristics, food scientists often only take into consideration knowledge regarding (a) the function of food as a whole entity – meaning all characteristics of a food working synergistically, and (b) the diverse dietary needs of human being. Blood type, allergies and genetic predisposition can dictate very different dietary needs from one person to the next. For science to assume this can be narrowed down to just a few ‘preferred’ genetic traits is an incredibly bawdy assumption. Long-term effects on a people given limited access to certain nutritional factors through cloned foods have not been thoroughly researched. But the corporations behind the science don’t appear to see any problem in bringing these products to market. Will cloned foods be labeled? Does a consumer have the right to know if they are eating these foodstuffs?

We’ve accelerated our ability to mass-produce food, yet we still have a minimal understanding of how nutrients actually work inside the body. Remember the low-fat craze that morphed into the all-fat fad ala Atkin’s diet? Is salt good or bad? What about sugar? How these facets of nutrition work in the body has been glossed over by the human trait of over-consuming, forcing us into a culture of dietary extremes. Seasonal eating sustained cultures for thousands of years, only to fall behind decadent demands of “civilized” cultures – flying foods around the world while others wilt and rot in our backyards. Cloning may appear to be able to address our dietary needs. With a minimal understanding of the human body, however, how can science be certain all of our needs will be addressed? Manipulating food into producing only certain genetic traits gives way to a potential for mutant results and deficiencies. There are reasons nature grows a strawberry, rather than isolated vitamin C molecules.

One might also suspend disbelief and consider that cloning animals may denote cloning humans. It could already be happening. With an overpopulated planet growing denser by the day, cloning humans makes sense, sort of. If there’s only so much room on earth, why not fill it with the fittest of the species to ensure that as starvation, war and climate change wipe out the poorer nations, that the meek shall not inherit the earth, but be banished from it forever? The 3rd world is a risk-factor for the corporate agendas’ rapid growth goals. We live in a culture where propaganda is to democracy what violence is to fascism. It’s rampant in the American condition: a nation of consuming, dependent debtors running a rat race, trying to stay in fashion. Nourishment is secondary to identity and egos based on the foods we eat, or rather, the brands we digest, the clothing we wear (and throw out each season), the gadgets, television shows and the SUV’s we insulate ourselves with. Cloning is to evolution what globalization is to capitalism. A consuming-based global economy will breed a population that embraces it, and eats it.

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