Americans Eat Cloned Food and It's Totally Legal

When was the last time you had a delicious, juicy burger?

While you were eating that hamburger, it's likely that you weren’t thinking about where your meat came from. And even if you were, there’s an even stronger chance that you didn’t consider how you might be eating the same cow as thousands of other people — literally.

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Researchers are examining how cloning might help end world hunger.

Cloned meat is a relatively new frontier that researchers and agricultural leaders are exploring as they scramble to find a way to feed an ever-expanding population. (For context, it’s estimated that the global demand for meat is expected to increase by 74 percent by 2050, according to Lucky Peach.)

To combat this rising demand, China has already decided to create a cloning factory that will begin operations in 2016. They aim to produce 100,000 cow embryos per year, which could provide five percent of China’s meat, according to VICE.

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But this practice isn’t limited to China. Millions of Americans eat the meat and byproducts of cloned animals, too. So how did this come to be, and what does it mean for you, the consumer?

A brief history of cloning

Back in 1996, Scottish scientists announced that they had successfully cloned the first mammal. The mammal was a sheep named Dolly, who lived an arthritic life and died prematurely, according to the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh.

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But Dolly was far from the last animal to be cloned. Since then, the practice has become much more widespread, and has made its way into your local grocery store.

What is cloning, and how does it occur?

An animal clone is a genetic copy of another animal, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

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The most commonly used form of animal cloning is called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT), according to the FDA. Basically, scientists replace the genetic information in an egg with a mature cell containing a genetic code that’s already been established. Then, the FDA says, “after a few steps,” the fertilized egg is implanted into a surrogate mother, who carries it to full term.

Do we eat cloned animals in the U.S.?

Yes, definitely. Against opposition from animal welfare groups, environmental organizations, consumers and some members of congress, the Scientific American reports that the FDA approved the sale of cloned animals and their offspring in 2008.

We don’t always eat the cloned animals because they are expensive to produce, the New York Times notes. It’s much more likely that we’re consuming milk and meat from the offspring of the genetic copies, including cows, pigs and goats.

Where do ethical and health concerns come into play?

Some consumer and animal rights groups argue that it’s unethical to subject animals to birth defects and premature death like Dolly was. There are also arguments that there is insufficient research to show whether or not eating cloned animals will have long-term negative health effects on human beings.

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