Digest: Great cloning Q&A, Annie’s mac-n-cheese debunked, SciAm on Pollan essay

Ask the Weiss man: If you're at all concerned about eating cloned meat and dairy under the organic label, read this excellent Washington Post online Q&A in which excellent biotech reporter Rick Weiss takes questions from readers. Make time to read it all, if you can, as Weiss not only clarifies the science, but also ably tackles some of the philosophical objections. For example:

Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: My initial negative reaction to all of this is purely visceral. Is there any scientific evidence that this may be a bad idea, or do arguments against generally skew philosophical?

Rick Weiss: The science (so far, at least) says meat and milk from clones is fine to eat. So yea, a lot of the negative reaction about food from clones is "visceral" (not sure I'd really use that word though...). But then we must ask: Are those emotional reactions not worth anything? Isn't food all about emotion? If it weren't, then we'd just be living off of high-nutrition pills by now. But people WANT to have a complex relationship with their food. So I don't think we can discount that part of the debate. In a perfect world, I guess, foods that don't satisfy us (nutritionally, emotionally, whatever) would leave the market for lack of demand. That's where the labeling question gets hot though. Because without labeling, you can't shun what you don't want. Which then gets us back to the "organic" question. Seems to me that if nothing else, that is going to be the way people can avoid cloned food, if they want to avoid it. Clones could be a great boon to the 'organic food' market share."

Annie's macdown: A breezy, funny article rips Annie's brand of "all natural" kid-friendly pasta for, among other things, being no healthier than the day-glo orange Kraft version. The writer is Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, who according to her tagline "aspires to be the bad girl of American food writing." She gets our vote, thanks to scorched-earth passages like these: "Annie's Homegrown out-bads McDonald's and Coca-Cola because it plants a corporate beachhead right there in your family's kitchen. …So, stand up, please, and receive a heartfelt thank-you from the American food industry. Where would they be without the culinary passivity and anesthetized palate you are so assiduously cultivating in the next generation?" Salon

Pollan protester: A SciAm editor pushes back a little on several assumptions Michael Pollan made in his cover story for the Sunday New York Times Magazine. Scientific American blog

Locavoracious: We've been meaning to post about Culinate, a new Portland-based website devoted to conscious eating, but just haven't gotten around to it. Launched earlier this month, the site already has a great collection of practical tips and personal essays. Today, there's an in-depth feature about people who attempt the 100-Mile diet — and why. (Disclosure: Editor Liz Crain interviewed us for a forthcoming Blog Feed column. But that's not why we like them.) Culinate.com

Obituary: Sharon Tyler Herbst, author of 17 books on food and wine — perhaps best known for "The Food Lover's Companion" — has died of ovarian cancer. San Francisco Chronicle

The bacteria buffet: The Center for Science in the Public Interest has just released a report ranking food service operations in school cafeterias around the country. The results are not pretty — and we're not talking about the tater tots. CSPI newsroom

E. coli's lingering effect: Spinach sales are still hurting. USA Today

More power for Wal-Mart: Wal-Mart has created its own electricity company in Texas, called Texas Retail Energy, to supply its stores with cheap power bought at wholesale prices. A spokesperson also mentioned the company would consider buying a renewable-energy power plant, such as a wind farm, if it can't find enough vendors to meet Wal-Mart's eventual goal of using only renewable power. Dallas News

Buy sun screen: Humanity has just 10 years to reverse surging greenhouse gas emissions or risk runaway climate change, according to scientists working on a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Gulp! Times (UK)

7 Responsesto “Digest: Great cloning Q&A, Annie’s mac-n-cheese debunked, SciAm on Pollan essay”

  1. Marc says:

    The WaPo Q&A was good, but a few items didn't come up, like what do religions think about cloning animals? And which government agency has jurisdiction over labeling of products derived from cloned animals? If the FDA scientific review panel finds that cloned meat is safe to eat, I don't see how FDA can require labels. Their job is food safety. I would guess that the USDA can write the labeling rules.

    I'd be curious to see studies on the effects of nature vs. nurture. The offspring of a prize bull that is cloned will eat slightly different food, experience different temperature ranges, have a different antibiotic and hormone treatment program, be exposed to different viruses and bacteria and so forth. After all of those differences, will the yield or quality of the offspring of a cloned prize bull still be better than its normal offspring?

  2. Do we take the ick factor as a serious objection when it's applied to tripe, cheese mold, ants' eggs, or fungus that grows on corn -- all of which are delicacies somewhere in the world?

    How long ago was it that North Americans collectively shuddered at the thought of raw fish, and how many of them think nothing of grabbing a sushi box on their lunch hour now? Even that visceral fear was based on a valid bioethical concern, namely that raw meat was (not unreasonably, in many places) associated with food poisoning and parasitic disease.

    If it can be determined by sound science that a food source is safe to eat and ecologically efficient to grow and distribute, and if ethical concerns such as treatment of workers and animals can be laid to rest, the visceral objections can and probably should be overcome.

  3. I just read over my comment again and I don't know why I said 'bioethical'. I meant to say 'biomedical'. Whoops.

  4. Kim says:

    Thanks, Ethicureans, for pointing your radar our way . . . and for expanding the conversation about food each and every day with your Digest. It's an awesome roundup.

    Culinate welcomes all Ethicurean readers! Come say hello.

  5. DairyQueen says:

    Hi Indefatigable -- totally agree with you, that if the science proves it's safe to eat, and the ethical concerns can be laid to rest, I'd probably eat it. But I think for that to happen, we need a much longer time frame to study it -- we've only been cloning animals for a few years. I just don't think that's long enough to feel safe eating them.

  6. Man of La Muncha says:

    Hi Indefatigable, the cloning issue does not appear to have taken into consideration the problem of premature aging, which was a factor for Dolly the Sheep. Premature aging raises interesting questions about cellular damage, the rise of new diseases related to cellular damage, and the vulnerability of monocultures inherent in cloning. Cattle, pigs, and chickens may not live long enough to experience the premature arthritis that bothered Dolly, or they may.

  7. Agreed with both of you -- I'm definitely not suggesting that we already know whether cloned meat is safe or ethical. I just think it's important to examine the visceral reaction and see if it's telling us anything useful. It might be worth listening to, or it might just be standing in the way of a beneficial development. The instinct shouldn't be blindly trusted or taken at face value.