This week, livestock cloning companies ViaGen, Inc. and Trans Ova Genetics introduced a supply chain management program to identify cloned animals as they enter the food chain. The program acts as a marketing claim, similar to other process-based programs in ag such as USDA's Certified Organic Program or Halal Meat Certification, but its aim is to allow companies in the food chain to identify and possibly exclude cloned animals.
Just to clarify, meat and milk from cloned animals is safe as deemed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) draft risk assessment released late last year. (beefmagazine.com/Food_From_Cloned_Animals_Safe/index.html). In that report, FDA stated that meat and milk from clones is virtually indistinguishable from conventional livestock. FDA is reviewing their initial assessment; a final ruling is expected before year's end. To date, ViaGen and Trans Ova have abided by FDA's voluntary moratorium to keep cloned animals out of the food chain.
The supply chain management system is a result of discussions with beef, dairy and pork industries, as well as producers, processors, grocers and food service providers as to what would happen if cloned animals entered the food chain. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Milk Producers Federation and Food Marketing Institute are supportive of the system.
Mark Walton, ViaGen president, says there are about 650 living clones that could be accounted for in the U.S. this past summer. He doesn't anticipate that number increasing very rapidly due to high costs associated with producing a clone, but would be pleased to see 100 cloned animals produced each year.
"Frankly, it's too expensive to look at as a food-production technology. It's really a breeding and genetics technology," Walton says. The dollar figure to produce a cloned cow is in the $10,000-20,000 range.
David Farber, president of Trans Ova Genetics, explains there are five components to the supply chain management program -- education, a national clone registry, affidavits, incentives and verification. The program is mandatory for producers choosing to clone animals.
Farber says a livestock producer interested in producing clones would begin by contacting a cloning company. That company will provide educational material on the supply chain management program. Together, a clone would be produced. The livestock provider would then provide an incentive deposit to the cloning company and sign a marketing and disposal affidavit committing to the proper marketing or disposal of the animal and its milk.
Cattle producers can expect to pay an incentive deposit around $1,000/animal; pork producers significantly less. The incentive deposit is designed to keep livestock producers committed to tracking cloned animals. Farber says the incentive price is significantly greater than market price, in which a cull animal typically generates $400-$500 salvage value.
Upon birth, the cloned animal is assigned a unique ID number and tagged with a radio-frequency ID ear tag that is National Animal Identification System compliant. The animal's info is kept in a third-party national database exclusive to cloned animals. It will not track the progeny of cloned animals.
The owner is refunded the incentive deposit from the cloning company when they notify the company of death (verified by a veterinarian), consumption by owner (verified by meat locker), or sale to a packer/processor that accepts clones (verified and signed statement from packer/processor).
The supply chain management program is in place now and animals cloned in 2008 will be registered in the database. The real value of the program will be realized after FDA's final risk assessment is completed and the moratorium has been lifted.
-- Alaina Burt