In December, livestock cloning companies ViaGen, Inc. and Trans Ova Genetics introduced a supply chain management program to identify cloned animals as they enter the food chain. The program acts as a marketing claim, similar to other process-based programs in agriculture, such as USDA's Certified Organic Program or Halal Meat Certification. Its aim, however, is to allow companies in the food chain to identify and possibly exclude cloned animals.
To clarify, meat and milk from cloned animals is safe as deemed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) risk assessment final report released January 15, 2008. In the report, FDA said meat and milk from clones is virtually indistinguishable from conventional livestock.
FDA reviewed its initial assesment (released December 2006), which included 400 comprehensive studies and two reviews by the National Academy of Sciences. To date, ViaGen and Trans Ova have abided by FDA's voluntary moratorium to keep cloned animals out of the food chain.
The supply chain management system is a result of discussions with beef, dairy and pork industries, as well as producers, processors, grocers and food-service providers as to what would happen if cloned animals entered the food chain. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Milk Producers Federation and Food Marketing Institute support the system.
650 existing clones in the U.S.
Mark Walton, ViaGen president, says there are about 650 living clones that could be accounted for in the U.S. this past summer. He doesn't anticipate that number increasing very rapidly due to the high costs associated with producing a clone, but would be pleased to see 100 cloned animals produced each year.
“Frankly, it's too expensive to look at as a food-production technology. It's really a breeding and genetics technology,” Walton says. The dollar figure to produce a cloned cow is in the $10,000-$20,000 range.
David Faber, president of Trans Ova Genetics, explains there are five components to the supply chain management program — education, a national clone registry, affidavits, incentives and verification. The program is mandatory for producers choosing to clone animals.
Faber says a livestock producer interested in producing a clone would contact a cloning company, which would provide educational material on the supply chain management program. Together, a clone would be produced. The livestock provider would then provide an incentive deposit to the cloning company and sign a marketing and disposal affidavit committing themselves to the proper marketing or disposal of the animal and its milk.
Cattle producers can expect to pay an incentive deposit around $1,000/animal; pork producers significantly less. The deposit's purpose is to commit livestock producers to tracking cloned animals. Faber says the incentive price is significantly greater than market price, in which a cull animal typically generates $400-$500 salvage value.
Upon birth, the cloned animal is assigned a unique ID number and tagged with a radio-frequency ID ear tag that is National Animal Identification System compliant. The animal's information is kept in a third-party national database exclusive to cloned animals. It will not track the progeny of cloned animals.
The animal's owner is refunded the incentive deposit from the cloning company upon notification of the animal's death (verified by a veterinarian), consumption by owner (verified by meat locker), or sale to a packer/processor that accepts clones (verified and signed statement from packer/processor).