By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
There’s nothing like a tender steak from a free-range, grass-fed, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, organic and — oh, yes — cloned cow.
Or is there?
That’s a question being raised by scientists, activists and government bureaucrats since the Food and Drug Administration concluded in December that meat and milk from cloned animals should be allowed on the market.
In the opinion of some in the biotechnology arena, the federal definition of organic food would allow them to label food from clones as organic, as long as those clones were raised organically.
“My interpretation is that it’s not excluded at this time,” said Barbara Glenn, chief of animal biotechnology at the Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization.
But the mere thought that a clone might earn the coveted organic label makes even the most mild-mannered foodies rabid.
“Over my dead body,” said Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy organization in Washington.
“I think it’s unbelievable,” said restaurateur Nora Pouillon, proprietress of the Nora and Asia Nora restaurants and Washington’s doyenne of organic cookery.
“It’s like putting artificial apples in an apple pie,” said Joseph Mendelson III, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, a consumer group in Washington that has petitioned the government to more strictly regulate the sale of clone products for human consumption. “People would consider that a downright violation of the American way.”
Officials at the Agriculture Department, which oversees the definition and certification of organic food, say the question will not be fully settled until it is considered by an advisory panel, perhaps by this spring. At that meeting, they predict, opponents will probably win, and the term “organic clone” will join the ranks of word pairs that simply do not belong together.
But nothing is ever certain in the federal rulemaking process. And a look at the USDA’s legal definition of “organic” shows how tough it can be to regulate a science that is changing almost as fast as ink dries in the Federal Register.
The Agriculture Department spent years crafting a definition of “organic,” integrating the advice of a record-breaking 50,000-plus public comments. But even after all that, said USDA spokesman Jerry Redding, the issue of clones “really never came up internally or externally until the FDA made its announcement about cloned animals being safe.”