But is such meat safe? To explore that, let's first address a few common questions and misunderstandings:
How is an animal cloned?
To start, an egg cell is emptied of its genetic material. After being hollowed out, scientists replace it with a nucleus from the animal they are cloning. The egg is then inserted into a womb and gestated normally. Through this, breeders hope to raise animals with the same tender meat or premium milk that the parent animal seemed to provide well.
What exactly is a clone?
The idea of an identical 'clone' is somewhat misleading. Although scientists take DNA identical to the donor, DNA doesn't work quite so simply. It is dependant on a variety of influences: environmental factors, chemicals in the womb, the health/age/eating habits of the mother, etc. DNA is not written in stone, but determined by a heredity-environmental interaction. Scientists generally refer to this as epigenetic DNA. Genes can be turned off or turned on by factors in the environment, which can completely alter genetic expression. Everything from the amount of nurturing a parent gives their young to the diet and living conditions influence genetic expression. So regardless of what science fiction movies promote, the idea of making a carbon copy of yourself-or anything else-is at least of now a scientific impossibility. Genes start the equation, but other factors take it from there. This is why when scientists go on the news touting their cloned animals, most of us look on in amusement because the mother animal is pure white but its clone is brown with black spots. A true DNA 'clone' isn't ever actually truly identical to its parent, because influences beyond our control regulate gene expression.
How practical is it?
Cloned animals are very expensive. The average clone costs around $20,000. Therefore, even when an animal is cloned for its meat, the cloned animals themselves will never be eaten, it's their offspring that ranchers are after. So it's unlikely that you'll be eating identical twin rib eyes anytime soon. Cloned animals are used for breeding purposes only, and are likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. Ultimately, it's just a high-tech way of trying to get a better animal, similar to the way people breed prize racehorses in the hopes that their offspring will inherit the qualities that made their parents champions.
The bottom line: Although the thought may be unsettling to some, from the science we've explored there seems to be no apparent risk from this question, there shouldn't be any risk to consumers from this practice. The FDA seemed to find no danger in its use either, though some recent shortcomings and rumors of corporate influence leave many quick to distrust the FDA. However, to put things in perspective, we've been eating genetically modified food crops for decades now, and most of us have yet to grow a third eyebrow. (Most of us.) Genetically modified crops, at least theoretically, actually have the potential to be far more dangerous than cloned meat, because in crop supplies we're actually tinkering with the genetic code to create entirely new strains of plants. Cloned meat still contains material that was originally derived naturally. Scientists are merely taking the prize animals and duplicating what nature originally did on its own.
There is one legitimate risk in cloning animals for meat or milk production, not having to do with your eating a