Friday, December 29, 2006

FDA Approval of Cloned Animal Products

Yesterday the FDA released a draft document which, if made final, would permit the sale for consumption of animal products from cloned animals and the offspring of cloned animals. The FDA acknowledges that there are some difficulties associated with cloning but these typically either prevent reproduction entirely or pose risks to the cloned animal but not its offspring or those who consume the resulting animal products. The FDA is soliciting comments before putting the new rules into effect.

Some people, including yours truly, object to consumption of cloned animal products because we think it categorically immoral to consume sentient animals or their products (given the conditions in which food-producing animals are kept and the industries with which they are intertwined even if they themselves are not eaten: bull calves born to dairy cows end up as veal; male chicks that hatch from fertilized eggs of laying hens are often fed to the wood-chipper). But we vegans are only about one to two percent of the U.S. population (based on poll data analyzed here) and, in any event, we don't object to the consumption of cloned animal products on the ground that they're cloned but on the ground that they're animal products. I understand from news reports that the two main objections to the consumption of cloned animal products from non-vegans/non-vegetarians are: 1) Fear of Frankenstein's monster; and 2) Fear of the slippery slope to human cloning.

The Frankenstein's monster objection asserts that cloning is a new technology which could well have unanticipated side effects. That is, of course, always possible, but this objection applies to any new technology. Effects of cloning are studied over the course of multiple generations. Drugs for humans, by contrast, are subject to clinical trials for one generation. Long-latency problems seem much less likely to arise from consuming cloned animal products than from taking a new drug.

The fear of a slippery slope to human cloning strikes me as unrealistic as well. People permit themselves to kill sentient animals for food precisely because they do not think of non-human animals as entitled to ethical consideration. Indeed, even the suggestion (by people like me) that we should not deliberately kill non-human animals capable of suffering is deemed offensive by some of these people, for it equates humans with other animals, they say. (It doesn't. I don't say that cows should be able to vote or attend medical school, only that they shouldn't be made to suffer and die to satisfy someone's preference for beef over tofu or leather over pleather. But I won't pursue the point here.) It strikes me that the non-vegan/non-vegetarian majority will have very little difficulty saying that cloning is permissible for cows, pigs and chickens but impermissible for humans, on the ground that humans are, in their view, categorically different. As a vegan, I wish others perceived the the slope as slippery, but as a realist, I doubt they will.