Dolly, the world’s first cloned mammal, must be turning in her grave.
The Food and Drug Administration has declared that meat and milk from cloned animals is safe to eat, paving the way for cloned products to show up in grocery stores across the land, likely without any special labels or warnings.
This makes sense because there is absolutely no evidence to show that there is anything unsafe about milk or meat from cloned cows, goats or pigs. (Actually, the FDA is holding off on deciding whether cloned sheep are a safe source of chops, saying not enough information is available yet.) But many of us hear the words "meat from cloned animals" and get queasy. Dolly, fairly or not, is to blame.
Dolly was a sweet-faced little sheep who bothered no one during her life. Her only impact on humanity was to give employment to countless novelists, journalists, TV producers, cult leaders, Hollywood screenwriters, politicians, comedians and, yes, bioethicists, who otherwise might have spent years wondering what they could do that would scare the daylights out of the American public while making either making them plenty of money or getting them elected in the case of the politicians. Remember Osama bin Laden and avian flu weren't in the news when Dolly’s existence was announced to a completely freaked-out public in 1997.
Dolly, whose remains are on display at the Royal Museum of Scotland, spent her six years on earth as the object of scorn, fear, derision and slander. The media had a field day upon her birth telling us that Dolly was the key to resurrecting the dead, creating vicious clone armies and a world in which everyone would be trailed by a hapless clone whose internal organs would be available on demand to prolong lives threatened by disease or old age. Who could like a cloned animal when the technology that created her might lead to innumerable copies of Kevin Federline, Bob Saget or Nicole Richie?
But worse was to follow. Soon wacky cults like the Raelians and nutty scientists and semi-scientists like the incredibly fortuitously named Dr. Richard Seed and the ominously monikered Professor Panos Zavos were hollering about cloning rich people, cult leaders, and generally unsavory types to the rapt and stupefied attention of a media unable to discern the fact that dressing in a Star Trek uniform and displaying a very bad hair dye job did not prove your bona fides as the cloner most to be feared.
All of this nonsense set the stage for the next big scare about cloning, which was fueled by the debate over federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Opponents of that funding found they got the greatest traction for their desire not to see federal funds spent by invoking the word "clone" over and over again. Funding embryonic stem cell research likely meant a pod person would move in next door, some high-profile Republican legislators as well as President Bush would lead you to believe.
All of this nonsense took a toll. It made Americans forget that cloning is nothing more than artificially creating twins. It made us forget that every drop of wine we drink comes from cloned grapes. It made us ignore the fact that if you want to worry about what you are eating you would be better off fretting over whether the FDA has enough inspectors on the job at meat plants looking for salmonella and E. coli than whether your dinner started off as a clone.
Dolly got a bad rap. And it has stuck. But the FDA is right to follow the evidence and let products from clones enter the marketplace.
If people want these products labeled so they can choose not to buy them, that's their right.
But, before you decide, remember the only thing you really have to fear from cloned animals is what human beings have done to ruin their reputations!
Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.