JANUARY 2007 IN
RICK ASTER’S WORLD

The Clone-Free Diet

Ignoring all the scientific evidence, the regulators at the FDA have indicated their intention to approve meat from cloned animals for sale as food. According to surveys, most Americans are repulsed by the idea of eating clones, and skepticism of such high-tech dietary innovations is much higher in other countries around the world. Yet if the FDA initiative goes through, people in the United States may have few choices if they want to avoid eating clones.

This is not one of those stories where scientists theorize that there is a difference between one kind of food and another but no one can tell the difference in a laboratory. The differences between meat from natural animals and meat from clones are many, obvious, and easily detected. Cloned animals are generally weaker and more susceptible to infectious diseases of every kind, and this is a particular concern. If you want to be healthy, it doesn’t seem like a good strategy to be eating animals that are sick all the time.

Yet you can’t just get meat from sources that claim not to use clones. Such a claim would be all but meaningless under the proposed FDA rules, which direct the food industry to treat clones as the equivalent of natural animals. Farmers who buy animals would have no way of knowing whether they’re buying natural animals or clones, so they would have no way to provide you with any meaningful assurance. You could get clone-free meat only from farms that do not sell meat from animals they’ve bought — and that rules out virtually the entire commercial livestock industry as it currently operates.

What is more, as soon as clone meat is introduced, it will be all over the place. McDonald’s is said to combine the meat of up to 10,000 beef cattle in every hamburger — the mixing is supposed to give the meat a more consistent flavor. This means that as soon as clone beef is introduced — and it’s one of the first types of meat to be targeted, as it is thought that cloning could cut the incidence of mad cow disease — then you will know for sure that some proportion of the meat in every Big Mac is from cloned animals.

So what is a meat eater to do? If a Big Mac is turning into a Big Clone, is it time to start giving up meat? As drastic as it seems, that may be the simplest answer. You certainly can’t say, “I’m going to go on eating meat the way I always have,” because the meat you’re used to eating won’t be available any more — at least, if you buy commercial meat, you won’t know for sure that it’s from a natural animal. The question you may have to ask yourself is, “Do I want to eat clone meat, or do I want to eat some other kind of food besides meat?”

I find it hard to picture myself giving up meat entirely, yet a few years ago, when university researchers showing an astonishing lack of judgement released genetically modified pigs into the food stream, I decided I would give up pork temporarily. I didn’t strictly avoid it, but the bacon bits and other trace amounts of pork I ate couldn’t have amounted to more than 100 grams over that three-year period. It was a drastic drop-off from my previous level, when I could eat that much pork in a single meal, yet that took very little thought or effort on my part. So perhaps I could give up other kinds of meat too just as easily. Certainly I will be cutting back. As unlikely as giving up meat sounds, it is hard to imagine that I would regularly choose to eat animals that contain unnaturally high levels of pus, the salty bacteria-filled fluid that drains from infected areas, yet this is what clones tend to be. I marvel at the minority of Americans surveyed who didn’t find this prospect repulsive, though I have to assume the pollsters didn’t mention and describe pus when they asked the question about eating clones.

It helps to know that meat is not nutritionally important. Much of the high-quality protein supposedly available in meat is destroyed in cooking, making meat protein inferior to what you find in watermelons and oatmeal, for example. Meat is full of calories and often relatively empty of the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. This is because of the way meat is cooked. Meat has to be cooked thoroughly to destroy parasites and bacteria that otherwise could start eating your body away from the inside, yet the cooking also destroys most of the theoretical nutritional value of meat. Vegetables can be cooked more gently, grains are not damaged so easily by cooking, and fruits can often be eaten raw, so even people who eat mostly meat probably get most of their nutrition from the fruits, vegetables, and grains that they eat.

Then there are the stories of the people who lost weight when they cut down on eating meat. Of course, there are others who largely gave up meat and didn’t lose any weight, but even so, the chance of losing weight is another argument for eating something besides meat at a meal.

Finally, I’ll still have to pick something from the restaurant menus. Most restaurants do a poor job of cooking vegetables, which is why they like to emphasize meat in almost everything they offer. Both meats and vegetables lose something when they’re frozen and stored in the restaurant freezer, yet the harm from freezing meat makes little difference after the thorough cooking that meat requires in any case. Restaurant vegetables, though, are often no more substantial than potato chips. At some restaurants I might end up choosing meat just because there seems to be little else to choose from. If this is the biggest challenge I face, though, it would seem that it won’t be any trouble to reduce my meat-eating habit by 90 percent or more.

After three years of not eating pork, I never went back to it in a big way. When I see hot dogs now, I ask, “Why do people eat those things?” So it seems possible that I could give up most of the meat I’m eating without much more difficulty, and perhaps I won’t miss these other kinds of meat very much either.


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