Extremism in defense of tastiness is no vice.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Pass the Dolly, Please

At long last my dreams have come true. I can finally eat Dolly the sheep without breaking into the Royal Museum of Scotland.

Today, in a show of scientific hubris worthy of a Mary Shelley novel or Jerry Bruckheimer film, the FDA issued a release declaring that cloned animals and their offspring are safe to eat.

Which really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. While I'm no scientician, it makes a whole lot of sense that the process would be safe, given that a clone is by definition essentially an identical twin of the original animal.

Of course, that doesn't mean we won't be entering into outraged panic. And naturally, that panic has to an extent already begun. The New York Times reports Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union as one of the first. Hansen contends that the report “flies in the face of Congress’s wishes. It flies in the face of consumer wishes."

Never mind that this study has been going on for some seven years. Never mind that the National Academy of Sciences already came to the same conclusion in the hoary days of 2002, way back in that innocent, bygone era when Grand Theft Auto III was new and we didn't know that R. Kelly enjoyed urinating on young girls. And never mind that the studies involve peer-review by independent scientific experts in cloning and animal health. Some dude saw Episode II and doesn't want his lamb chops growing up to become a storm trooper.

I can't help but humbly reply.

To wit: keep your hands off my food, jerk.

Sadly, this isn't because I believe cloned animals will somehow improve society or taste better than their brethren who came from old-fashioned, inseminated-by-hand mommies. (Except for Dolly, of course. Historicity, after all, is the finest sauce.)

No, because of their difficulty to raise--and subsequent cost--cloned animals are largely intended for use as breeding animals through which desirable traits can be more quickly introduced than through conventional methods. In other words, it will allow large producers to continue doing what they've been doing even more efficiently, namely raising affordable, decent, and generally fine but unremarkable livestock.

If there's any danger at all, it is of increasing homogeneity within this arena, a homogeneity already well-established after thousands of years of animal husbandry. Grocery store cattle will be a little heartier, produce a little more meat, and taste largely the same, and I'll still suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as Fountain Prairie's bone-in ribeye continues to elude me.

The far greater risk, where lovers of good food should be concerned, is giving the government more control over what we are allowed to eat. This same FDA has already forbidden us from drinking raw milk and from eating young raw milk cheese. Chicago has banned foie gras, New York has prohibited cooking sous vide, and morels were briefly illegal in California. Wisconsin law has even forbidden joint ownership of cows, lest you dare to drink their unpasteurized milk. ("We never should have let them do it in the first place," said regulator Thomas Leitzke in 2003.) While no one questions the wisdom of sanitation or labeling, prohibition of food items is an absurdity. Give us the information and let us choose.

If there is one thing the history of gastronomy has taught us, it's that food will not be contained. Fugu breaks free, mold expands to new territory, and wild mushrooms crash through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously. And that's a good thing. Humble yeasts have given us our finest beers and wines, buried vegetables transform almost magically into kimchi, and one-time throwaways like oysters and pineal glands have become revered in the pantheon of cuisine. Food finds a way.

Still worried about that cloned pig? Don't be. I have it on good authority that Newman from Seinfeld is overseeing the computer systems at the FDA's testing facilities, virtually guaranteeing our safety. Besides, when irregularities arise in the cloning processes, geneticists are already splicing in West African frog DNA to fill any gaps in the genetic structure.

It's a foolproof plan, really, and I promise we'll be OK. Unless, of course, they figure out how to open doors.

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