Saturday, January 5, 2008

Oh Noes! Hand me my torch and pitchfork!

We're all gonna die!

And maybe go to hell, for eating the devil clone meat.

"Whole Foods Market is committed to providing consumers with clone-free products," says Margaret Wittenberg, global vice president of quality standards and public affairs for grocer Whole Foods Market Inc. "The lack of effective governmental oversight and tracking could mean consumers will lose the ability to choose clone-free products."

Head for the hills! We're going to be overrun by really bad scifi-channel movie dialog! A pox on this writer's strike! Flee! Flee for your lives!

Cloned Milk! Why you might as well just suckle from the Devil's own teat!

"What are we afraid of???? Well let me see. Eating that stuff could possibly(and i mean this in a nice way) could turn you psychotic."

Oh no, not psychotic (even in a nice way)!

Ahhh! Ahhh! Ahhh. Ah?

Ah, hell, what a bunch of mass hysteria over nothing.

Snark aside, the chief complaint appears to be that the milk and meat from cloned animals won't be labeled as such on supermarket shelves. Opponents want the word "Clone" in big red letters on each package, because it's, um, really, really important! (technically I think it should probably say Clone! Clone! Clone! on the label, see because the word 'Clone' is copied several times and... what?)

Attention, clueless retards - since you spent your entire education with your ears plugged, afraid you might get a little Darwin on you, let me fill you in, cloning is NOT genetic alteration. Cloning is no different than twins. That's right, twins. Are you suggesting that we label milk and meat that comes from genetically identical animals (again, twins for the slow, science challenged people) as such? Maybe we should ban twins outright, those damned cows and their devil babies.

Look I'm all about food safety. I'm all about controlling genetically engineered foods. Frankly I'm a hell of a lot more concerned about making damned sure we know the long term effects of the steroids and hormones that are pumped into our food supply. This isn't that, cloning produces an animal genetically identical to the progenitor animal - that's why it's called cloning. If progenitor and offspring are not identical, the offspring is not a clone. If that progenitor animal was safe to eat, so is the clone. Q.E.D.

Simple genetic tests can easily prove this.

Which is what these alarmist idiots should actually be calling for: verification of identical genetic make-up between progenitor and clone(s). Certification that no significant genetic replication errors have occurred in the cloning process (by 'significant' I mean no greater than the normal +/- percentage of genetic mean deviation in a naturally occurring offspring). This would actually increase safety in the food supply. For example: a cow resistant to Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis (BSE, commonly called Mad Cow Disease) can be cloned over and over again. In fact, this could be a pretty powerful marketing tool - "Guaranteed to come from BSE Immune Animals!"

Are you eating cloned foods right now? Yep. Corn, wheat, potatoes, and many more plant products - we've been doing it for years, centuries in fact. Except the agriculture industry has been producing cloned crops using natural techniques. It's called monculture and it's what lead directly to the Dutch and Irish Potato Famine.

Which, of course, brings us to an actual real and legitimate concern regarding cloning - reduction of genetic diversity in the food supply. Over time it is likely that widespread cloning of selected animals will lead to a form of monoculture within the meat and diary industry, just as it has in agriculture.

Then again, it can be effectively demonstrated that if used on a large scale, cloning effectively stops evolution. Yep. And I think that's the marketing key, right there. Seriously push this hard enough, and it won't be long until the Creation Museum Cafe is serving nothing but Cloned Meat Hot Dogs. Eat Cloned Meat, Stop Evolution!

Cloned Food, the Conservative Christian Kosher!

Enjoy your Saturday.


  1. "Cloning is no different than twins."

    Well, actually, no. Cloning, in this case, is very different than "identical" twins (fraternal twins aren't clones). I could go into it (after all, my wife's Master's degree is in genetics) but it'd be very boring.

    Things to keep in mind. Dolly was the first successful clone of a sheep, and she didn't live a very long or healthy life (compared to other sheep). But she did live longer than most beef cattle. BTW, with BSE, did you know most beef cattle in the US are slaughtered at an age younger than the normal life cycle for BSE to start displaying symptoms? Also, marbling is not normal for cows (we get that effect by feeding them corn, which they can't process effectively, which leads to the fat deposits), but is a marketing push (corn is cheaper and can be feed in feed lots, cheaper production). Yeah, not so much with the trusting of the beef industry.

    While most of this talk is about cloning animals, there is a sub current in the industry to produce "vat" meat. This is also done by "cloning." And that product is very different (on the DNA level) from normal cows (as mammalian cells don't grow that way normally, cancer, however, does). Plus, over generations, cloning doesn't work (transcription errors).

    I'll just say that if the FDA wasn't constricted to estimating business losses and economic impact, NutriSweet would have been removed from the market over a decade ago. This is just an example that food companies will sell you something that is inherently bad for you.

  2. Also, agricultural monoculture isn't really cloning in the way we are discussing cloning herd animals, as it's the same physical plant, just multiples of it. Clones in the way we are talking about with animal, which genetically the same (hopefully), are different animals (development process).

    Biological systems aren't machines. There is a "nurture" component.

  3. Steve, yeah, I was simplifying. Probably too much - and I knew you'd call me on it sooner of later :)

    That's what I get for posting while I'm still pissed from watching some crazy nutjob on TV screaming and ranting about about how cloning is specifically listed as a sin in the bible, and reading blogs where people claim that cloned foods (including plants, can make you psychotic).

    I have no problem proceeding with caution. I actually have no problem with labeling milk and milk as from cloned animals - providing it doesn't raise my end user costs. I do have a problem when people claim cloning is against God's will and it's evil per se and then there's the hand wringing and waving.

    And yeah, agreed, clones of clones drastically increases the probability of replication errors. Which I why I said the real push should be verification of basic code, not labeling. Labeling does nothing really, unless it carries certification of genetic baseline.

    What prompted this rant, was the out and out presumption that cloning is intrinsically bad - it may be, I doubt it, but it's possible. But, let's dispense with the hysteria.

  4. Steve already mentioned the two points I was going to make - transcription errors and the tendency of the food industry to really not give a shit about food safety.

    Aspartame = Formaldehyde. Any questions?

  5. Well, yes, and splenda = sugar plus chlorine. But I use it anyway.

    I don't have the slightest issue w/ eating meat from cloned animals - but I find the concept of vat meat a bit "squee". Reminds me of Bill Cosby and the Chicken Heart.

  6. Right. Look I'm not disagreeing that there should be oversight. And I agree that the food industry is not the best at policing itself - my beef (heh) with this issue is the knee jerk 'whhoooo cloning food is bad!' when the science says the opposite.

    For me this is right up there with the anti-irradiation nuts who think that because food has been irradiated to kill bacteria that it is somehow radioactive. I know people who won't go anywhere near a microwave oven because is uses 'radiation.' And these are the same dolts who are screaming about cloned meat.

    And - the actual meat and milk reaching the table will come from the offspring of cloned animals - not the animals themselves. Cloning is expensive, extremely so. The process is being used to produce stud and breeding stock, not meat. The breeding process will go a long way towards ensuring the final animal is genetically normal, because cloned creatures with damaged genetic structures are unlikely to reproduce successfully.

    Again, I agree that the process must be regulated and I will even go so far as to say that it is possible that problems with cloned meat will be found - but, If we are to ban cloning and cloned products then let's do it because of sound science and not because of paranoid hysteria.

  7. Actually, I have an issue with cloning animals for meat, because I don't believe that with our current technology cloned animals would be able to thrive in a free-range outdoor setting.

    Anything other than a free-range outdoor setting is ethically unacceptable to me.

    Meat in a vat just makes me think of stories told by my grandfather who worked briefly in a candy factory. Let's just say that he never EVER ate candy.

  8. Michelle, while I prefer eggs, milk, and meat from free-range livestock and buy that when I can, I think that it is becoming a luxury that we will not be able to afford much longer. Factory farming is far more cost effective and efficient (notice, I didn't say more ethical) and as the population continues to increase geometrically I think that efficiency and cost effectiveness will continue to increase in importance. As the cost of energy increases, the amount of arable land decreases, and the population explodes it will become increasingly necessary to squeeze as much out of the food supply as possible - and factory farming is far far more efficient per energy unit and asset unit expended. Ethical? No - until we begin to face starvation, then all bets are off.

    Cloning, genetic engineering, and vat made meat may be the only way to feed a large population - unless you can force a change in American dietary habits (i.e. eliminate the meat step altogether, moving to a more efficient primarily vegetarian diet. I think this is unlikely in the near term, though it may become a matter of necessity in the not so distant future).

    I thought I read somewhere that you said you were a vegetarian, what do you think?

  9. Jim,

    I don't eat mammals, and when I eat poultry, I attempt to buy organic (we found organic turkeys for both Thanksgiving and Christmas) because I find much of our farming practices for animals highly unethical.

    There are two things I have serious problems with: 1) farming where the animals are never free range and are penned their entire lives and fed foods they cannot naturally digest (i.e. corn) and 2) American slaughter houses where the animals are are treated almost as badly as the humans who work there.

    I think that organic or free range meats are the only ethical way to go, and that halal or kosher slaughter practices should become more widely used, and that people who work in the slaughter houses need to have their working conditions and pay rates drastically improved.

    It is not that I am opposed to eating meat per se. I am simply opposed to the way many farm animals are treated.

    I am also NOT opposed to hunting--as long as that hunting is for food and not for sport. (That means that animal killed must be eaten by the hunter/family or donated to a local food pantry.)

    But I also think that the American diet desperately needs to change, because meat for three meals a day is unsustainable in the long run, and leads to corn fed beef, which is bad for everyone involved.

    If Americans simply reduced the amount of meat we eat, then some portion of that land could go towards growing vegetables, which create far more food per acre than corn used to raise beef.

    And I wouldn't trust meat-in-a-vat not because of any inherent dangers in the product (I think the antibiotics and hormones used in current conventional farming are FAR more dangerous) but because I don't trust the food industry to keep the machinery clean and safe.

    As it is there are currently countless cases of food poisoning around the country due to current practices (let's just say that the recalls are hear about aren't even the tip of the iceberg) and if the industry were in charge of the process from start to finish, I see the end product as being MUCH more dangerous, from levels of bacterial contamination and other--matter--that may end up in the meat.

    Plus, in my previous job I grew and maintained several cell lines, and in order to get a cell line to continue, it basically has to mutate before it will grow. Is this deadly? Most likely not. But to me it's the equivalent of eating a five eyed dish: pretty squicky.

  10. Michelle: I agree with nearly everything you said.

    And even though I do hunt and fish, it is entirely for food. I have serious issues with hunting for 'sport' or trophies. I find this disturbing on many levels.

    On the other hand, perhaps because of my background, I personally have no problem with eating factory farmed products from an ethical stand point. I'm not saying that I applaud the condition within those factories, either for human or animal, only that the ethics of the situation don't bother me enough to not eat the products produced there. Again, this is probably because of my background, I grew up in farm country and I spent significant time in some really lousy places, places where human life is incredibly cheap, and poverty and starvation are commonplace. And so, I tend to see things tempered by that.

    On the other hand, I do agree that if we are capable, then ethically conditions must be improved both for our animal food sources and for the humans involved in the process.

    One of the reason I'm watching the cloning/vat farming process with interest is that if the process can be made safe, truly safe (and I very much agree with your concerns there) than 'meat' from that process would go a long way towards resolving the ethical dilemma you've described. However, I don't think we're anywhere near that point yet and I agree that the situation requires regulation and strict controls. But on the gripping hand, I don't out and out condemn the process, and I think it has possibilities in the long term.

    But as you said, and I said above, I seriously doubt that meat three meals a day is a luxury we as a civilization will be able to afford much longer. Things will have to change, either be design, or by necessity. I'd prefer it to be by design.

  11. I have lots of friends who hunt--and live where deer are a major hazard in the roads and interstates--so as long as the hunter is good and doesn't take shots that would only wound and not kill, I think it's a good idea.

    Better that animals die of a clean kill from a hunter than wasting away from hunger or brain wasting disease. (My theory is that a lot of these diseases are related to high population densities. But it's just a WAG.)

    I grew up in farm country and I spent significant time in some really lousy places, places where human life is incredibly cheap, and poverty and starvation are commonplace. And so, I tend to see things tempered by that.

    I can see that, but I strongly believe that in the US we shouldn't have those kinds of situations, nor should we support them elsewhere.

    And so I put my money where my mouth is (literally).

    And modern slaughterhouses may be worse than you think they are. Once management drives unions out of work places that are hazardous, things tend to go downhill rather rapidly for the employees, unfortunately.

    EEK! Had more so say--gotta run!

  12. I can see that, but I strongly believe that in the US we shouldn't have those kinds of situations, nor should we support them elsewhere.


    However, watching events unfold - especially within the energy field - I suspect that unless America decouples from a petroleum based economy sooner rather than later, we are eventually headed toward poverty and hunger within our own boarders and within the foreseeable future. I don't think this has to happen, nor that it is in anyway inevitable, but human nature being what it is, I suspect it is indeed possible within our own lifetimes, certain within that of our children.

    We are rapidly outstripping both our current energy infrastructure and our food production capability, and both are so closely linked that it is foolish to discuss them as separate problems (in my opinion). With geometric asset requirement increases driven by our expanding population, increased standards of living, and the decreasing energy supplies I think that we will face crisis soon. As I said, I grew up in farming country, and I am constantly amazed and alarmed at the rate which arable land is being plowed under for new construction and development. We increasingly get a large percentage of our food from outside our boarders, eventually we will end up in the same situation with regards to food as we currently are with energy.

    None of this justifies unethical management of factory farming, however. We are agreed there. Again, though I think that for these reasons and many others, factory farming of 'vat' products (i.e. 'meat' cloned and grown on organic scaffolds) may hold significant promise.

    This conversation was precisely what I hoped would result from the original post. Thanks Michelle.

  13. we are eventually headed toward poverty and hunger within our own boarders and within the foreseeable future.

    Jim, I'm not sure what you mean by that comment. Since over 25 million Americans (including 9 million children) received food assistance in 2006, I'd say we're not headed toward hunger - we're there.

    Or were you referring to food shortages across the board, followed by black markets, etc.?

  14. Yes, Janiece, you are correct (or at least I agreed you are correct), poverty and near starvation rations are indeed common in the US, however at this point in time those conditions are mostly restricted to certain areas of the country, out of the way and out of mind, and thus easy to pretend it doesn't really exist. What I meant by that statement - is that that condition is likely to become the norm for a majority of Americans unless we take action. Industrialized civilization rides on a platform of abundant energy - when that goes, so does affluence. So does easy access to food and resources. It a house of cards.

  15. Urk,...meant to end with:

    Food production in this country, especially meat production, especially beef production is labor, energy, and resource intensive. I suspect that will the first thing to go.

  16. urk again.

    So, finally to answer your question, yes I suspect widespread shortages and black market food. The rich will eat well, the poor will eat what poor people always eat. Or die.

    And we're pretty much at that point with access to medical already.

  17. We are rapidly outstripping both our current energy infrastructure and our food production capability, and both are so closely linked that it is foolish to discuss them as separate problems (in my opinion).

    Well, not just in your opinion. They are linked, and not just in the fuel used to plant and harvest, but also because of the use of petroleum based fertilizers.

    As far as moving away from a petroleum based economy, I fear there's little we can do at this point--at least as long as the government is all but opposed to alternative energy sources. (Interesting piece on NPR this evening about using a grass as an alternative fuel.)

    Once we finish remodeling our house, I'd love to add solar panels (once we save up for them). But right now purchasing and installing them is prohibitively expensive, even though I'd love to use them. (No petroleum based heat here--it's coal and natural gas, and I could really do without the excess pollution.)

    I think what makes me most crazy is that alternative energy sources seem to be in a damned if you do, damned if you don't position. At least around here.

    They want to install windmills for power. But now we have complaints they're destroying the view and are a danger to flying creatures.

    Well,yeah. TANSTAAFL people!

    Umm... sorry. Ranty tangent there.

    Actually, I think as much of a problem as loss of arable land to construction is the loss of arable land to environmental changes. The water table for Atlanta is in serious trouble, and that's going to affect not just drinking water and swimming pools, but agriculture for everywhere that takes water from that water table.

    Rainfall is changing, as are temperature zones. These changes in water and temperature may well change what can be grown in our current agriculture areas.

    And of course it's all our own faults. By demanding cheap prices for gasoline, corn, and beef, we force those who create and process those products to cut costs in any manner possible. Thus we get terrible working conditions, environmental runoff, etc.

    And this (circling back around) is I think what bugs me the most about cloning food animals (and this doesn't even touch on the fact that homogeneous herds are a really bad idea from a biological standpoint. One nasty disease can wipe out an entire herd, while in a heterogeneous herd, different animals may have different immunities to different diseases [and I'm talking more about "heirloom" plants and animals as much as non-cloned.]) is that were spending all this money on research that really could be better spent in tweaking and improving existing practices. Instead of trying to genetically make lower fat beef, why not let the stupid cows roam? Etc etc and so forth.

    It just seems a REALLY stupid waste of money, all things considered.

    And I'm delighted to debate these things--missing similar debates on the BBSes is what drew me to blogs in the first place. :)

  18. Michelle you might look at a vertical or horizontal wind-driven squirrel cage - sometimes called a vortex tower. Those can be concealed and present a much lower danger to wildlife.

    Additionally, there are many inexpensive methods for constructing passive solar heating, especially water heating, using common materials. Passive solar, especially in your climate, doesn't have to be expensive. (Yeah, solar photo-voltaic is another story altogether).

    Solar and especially wind power are common in Alaska, most of us have some knowledge of homebuilt systems.

    Also, take a look at this, Vertigro has been pioneering a process for making bio-diesel from what is basically domesticated pond scum. Their process is innovative, cheap, and low impact. A large prototype plant (basically a series of large green houses) is scheduled to come online later this year.

    If the companies figures can be trusted they will be able to produce 1000-4000gals of bio-diesel per acre as opposed to the 20-30gal of methanol produced from an acre of corn. Additionally, the Vertigro process requires only solar input, and water. No tilling, harvesting, and etc using large petroleum burning tractors. Additionally again, the process works best in desert areas (read non-arable crop land, i.e. desert). Supposedly, the process can meet on transportation energy needs for American on about one tenth the size of Arizona. About 80% of the pond scum sludge can be converted to BD, and the remaining 20% can be eaten by either humans or animals.

    I really like this process and am thinking about investing in the company.

  19. try to read around the syntax errors in the previous post.

    - one other thing, the vertigro process can be enhanced by pumping CO2 into the system - that's right, it can directly remove CO2 from manufacturing and other energy production processes. Again, I really like this idea.

  20. Well, the windmills that are causing controversy are at the tops of mountains. Very windy mountains.

    I know that there have been discussions about turning off windmills during peak migration times and other solutions, but I haven't researched it more than the local indepth news coverage.

    I guess what irks me is that people seem to want to wait until something is perfect before they do it. Well, given the option between a wind powered turbine that is a danger to wildlife, and petroleum energy, I'd rather have the wind power, and work to make the turbines safer, rather than working to sequester CO2 and other nasties from the petroleum.

    It just feels like people are coming up with problems to keep from trying new solutions.

    I guess the other reason I'm irked is that they're moving to Mountaintop Removal coal mining around here, which is just as awful as it sounds, if not worse. If they don't find an alternative soon, the coal companies are going to flatten the whole state and destroy most of the watersheds in the process.

    Hmmm... not sure if the solar water heater thing would work, since we have a natural gas water heater. (And it's less than three years old to boot.)

    I know solar panels have gone down in price. I guess I'm just flat out not considering them I'd just like to get the last issues with the house finished before we even consider solar; especially since we may well sell as soon as the work is done. :) (We need a larger house. Thing is I'm not sure if my grandmother is up to another move.)

    The Vertigo bio-fuel looks interesting--if they can get it to be accepted. The bit I heard today about switchgrass seems to have a similar idea. (Yeah, I'd also love to have a bio-diesel. But as Jayne says, if wishes were horses we'd all be eating steak.)

    And using pond scum or a naturally growing perennial grass makes a LOT more sense that growing corn, which ends up costing us about a gallon of petroleum to make a gallon of corn based fuel (if I'm remembering what I heard earlier correctly.)

    Ok. I had more to say, but I'm yawning my head off so I'd best shower and get to bed. Six was extra early this morning.

  21. Michelle, the rate of return on corn based biofuel is about 1.2:1, if memory serves. There was a really good spread on it in the National Geographic in October 2007. I believe sugar cane has a much higher rate of return, at least according to the numbers coming out of Brazil.

  22. Janiece, that figure is a fairly close average, the actual amount of biofuel produced from corn varies depending on a number of factors, such as corn type, maturity, and growth factors, additionally the processing methods are not even remotely standardized and vary greatly in efficiency. In some cases the various factors add up to an inefficiency so great that it actually takes significantly more energy to process a gallon of methanol than is returned per gallon of finished product, this become even greater when you include the fact that methanol has to be trucked cross country (by diesel burning tractor/tanker rigs) from the corn belt to filling stations. Methanol cannot be moved via much more efficient pipelines due to condensation. Water in petroleum can be separated out without problem, but it will destroy methanol. Methanol also can't be stored lone-term in tanks for the same reason.

    Brazil is not a good model for American methanol production. Brazil's production is based on sugar cane, as you noted, which has a significantly higher efficiency of conversion. Brazil's climate allows year round growth of the cane. Also the agriculture, production, and distribution of methanol is all done collocated in a very small geographic region - massively decreasing the amount of energy required to produce it and distribute it.

    Bio-diesel shows a drastically greater promise for America, methanol is a dead end for us unless the efficiency of conversion can be significantly increased, which can be accomplished by switching to different stock source - unfortunately, the corn lobby has become a significant rallying point for the midwest.


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