Last week, the media carried reports stating that the agency was getting ready to announce that it was satisfied that the science regarding cloned food demonstrated no safety issues. It is really not clear what that means for the timing of when and how cloned food and food products will make it to market, despite some assumptions being made in the media that labels will not be required.
But when it comes to an issue such as cloned food products, safety is not the only consideration. Granted, the FDA, with rare exception, is supposed to make decisions based on science, and not other considerations, but in this instance, the agency may well have done itself a favor and taken into account the politics of the subject.
Consumer groups are aligned with animal welfare groups to oppose cloned animals and many stakeholders within the food industry are of conflicting points of view. Consumers do not like the idea of cloned foods, therefore pronouncements of safety need to take that into their thinking when making policy announcements.
The agency is not dealing from a position of strength. The FDA has suffered in image problem with both the public and policy-makers on the Hill. An announcement in a scientific vacuum endorsing safety without considering the policy implications stands not only to position the agency as a foe to consumer protection rather than an ally, but will have a spillover effect into the image of industry stakeholders.
We are far from the end of this discussion, but it would do well for all of those involved – from regulators to policy-makers – to try and avoid the same mistakes that occurred in communicating policy around irradiated food products – an outcome by which no one gains.