Cloned food is entering Canadian markets without mandatory labelling

Sylvain CharleboisImagine savouring a steak from a cloned animal or sipping milk from a cloned cow. Investigative journalism by Thomas Gerbet of the CBC has revealed that this could soon be a reality. However, many agricultural producer groups have not been directly consulted about this development.

Health Canada’s recent round of consultations, conducted with minimal public awareness, suggests that these products may soon be available without consumers’ knowledge, as there will be no mandatory labelling. The absence of such information on Health Canada’s website only adds to the opacity surrounding “cloned products.”

The consultation, which concluded on May 25th, focused on updating the “Policy on Foods Derived from Cloned Animals by Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer and Their Progeny.” This update proposes that cloned products be exempt from pre-market evaluation under Part B, Title 28 of the Food and Drug Regulations. This approach differs from other nations like the United States, Japan, and New Zealand.

How cloned products are reshaping the food industry

Photo by William Isted

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But what precisely is animal cloning? The process aims to create a genetic replica of an animal by replacing the nucleus of an unfertilized egg with that of a somatic cell from the donor animal, forming an embryo. This embryo is then implanted into a surrogate mother’s uterus, where it develops to term.

Artificial insemination, a well-established industry practice, involves collecting sperm from a male and artificially introducing it into a female’s reproductive system to facilitate fertilization, preserving genetic variability. Cloning, however, produces genetically identical animals, eliminating this variability.

From a food safety perspective, cloned products do not pose a threat to human health. However, the social and moral acceptability of cloning remains in question. It is doubtful that consumers will unconditionally accept this technology, especially in the absence of labelling. For traditional producers, integrating cloned products into the market could also taint consumer perceptions across entire categories, particularly meat and dairy.

This situation mirrors the backlash against genetically modified salmon, which faced immediate retail rejection despite being deemed safe. Irrespective of the safety profile, it is crucial to explain the technology and ensure consumers comprehend the rationale and necessity for such practices, both for their benefit and that of the industry.

For the industry, the imperative to amend regulations is less evident. Cloning is an expensive process, and the argument that reduced production costs will translate into lower retail prices for consumers is tenuous at best.

Without mandatory labelling, offering consumers a truly informed choice becomes problematic. We have witnessed similar issues with genetic engineering and GMOs. Health Canada appears poised to embrace technological advancements impacting our agri-food sector without adequately considering consumer rights and preferences.

Quite shameful.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

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