If I read one more headline about cloned cows being in the food chain, I think I’m going to scream.
Let’s get this straight, people. You haven’t eaten a clone. You haven’t drunk the milk produced by a cloned cow. Even if you had, it wouldn’t kill you, cause you to grow an extra arm or make your head spin in an Exorcist kinda way.
The cattle that have caused this week’s initial national media, storm-in-a-tea-cup are progeny of a cloned cow from the US (a cow, incidentally, created using the same genetics that creates identical twins in humans – nothing scarier than that). That means they are the children of a cloned animal, not clones themselves.
(In case you’re worried, these are ‘normal’ cows, not the ones related to the Yankie clone. I just thought you’d get bored and click away if I didn’t put a picutre on here)
The story then moved on when it was discovered 96 cattle have been bred from those initial eight imported progeny. This makes them the grandchildren of a clone – again, they are not clones.
I initially got wound up about this story because it was published by my favourite chip wrapper, the D*ily M*il, and any story in there tends makes my blood pressure go off the scale. But it was also written in such a ridiculous, dangerously scare-mongering way that I wanted to find the journalist who wrote it and belt him about the head.
The saga has brought up some interesting questions about our role as journalists at Farmers Weekly. We reported on the story as it broke and unfolded, but we did it in a way that was (I hope) measured and rational.
But because I’m an indignant so-and-so – and because I hate anyone believing anything that comes from the M*il – I also peddled myself to the BBC to try and make sure there was at least one balanced message out there. You can listen to me on Farming Today here. I’m the one that sounds like a bunged-up seven-year-old girl.
Our livestock editor, Jon Long, also went on TV this afternoon to repeat the Food Standards Agency’s message that there’s nothing for consumers to worry about. Even if the produce did come from a cloned cow, there’s nowt wrong with eating or drinking anything from it (note: I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be given the option of whether they eat such produce, I’m merely saying it’s safe).
We’ve had a discussion in FW Towers this afternoon about the way we’ve handled this story. Most FW readers will realise that this has just been whipped up by the national press, but we’ve felt compelled to make sure we continue to report on what’s happening in case the general public stumble across our website – we’d rather they found a sane and informed article from us than from someone who has perhaps got the facts confused. Isabel, FW’s content editor, has written an article here trying to explain our tactics.
I’ve been fielding calls from journalists all day who are obviously trying to move the story on by saying that consumers are going to have to get used to GMs and cloning if we want food security. I’ve tried to steer them away from that angle and I can only hope they’ve listened.
Fingers crossed consumers have also taken heed of what we’ve been trying to say here at FW, that this story gets dropped soon, there’s no lasting damage to the industry and my blood pressure can go back to normal.