Introduced by San Francisco Senator Carole Migden, the proposed bill aims to provide California residents with the option to choose what they consume.
The move comes weeks after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued draft guidance on allowing meat and milk from cloned cows into the food chain. The regulator has opened a 90-day consultation period to gather feedback before deciding whether its proposals -including allowing cloned food to be sold with no special labeling - should become policy.
But according to Migden, if these products do reach supermarket shelves, consumers should at least be able to decide whether or not they want to buy them.
"Like the majority of Americans, I have concerns about why cloned cows should be a part of our food system. I've introduced SB 63 to require meat and dairy products from cloned animals to be clearly marked as such," wrote Migden.
"After all, we label apricots, bananas and apples to show their place of origin; we label salmon as farm-raised or wild; the FDA requires irradiated food to be labeled. Requiring labels for dairy and meat products derived from cloned animals is the next reasonable step. Clear labeling will ensure consumers have a choice and know exactly what they are putting on the table for their families."
Indeed, recent consumer opinion polls show that most Americans do not want the experimental foods.
A November 2006 poll conducted by the Food Information Council found that 58 per cent of Americans surveyed would be unlikely to buy meat or milk from cloned animals, even if supported by FDA safety endorsements. In the same poll, only 16 per cent of Americans had a favorable opinion of cloning.
And the food industry, too, is not without its share of concerns. At this stage, one of the main issues for the industry is a lack of definitive and forceful guidance from the FDA.
In October, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) told FoodNavigator-USA.com that the group does not at this time support milk from cloned cows entering the marketplace until FDA determines that this is the same as milk from conventionally bred animals. And when this happens, the agency needs to be proactive and clearly and forcefully specify what claims are allowed, it said.
There is currently no regulation preventing cloned food from entering the nation's food supply. But the FDA has asked clone producers and livestock breeders to voluntarily refrain from introducing food products from clones or their offspring into the food supply until the agency endorses the findings of a National Academy of Science (NAS) report it commissioned in 2002 that declared cloned products safe for human consumption.
In its recent draft proposal, the agency said its assessment of the available scientific evidence shows no additional safety risks are posed by the technology. In the risk assessment section, however, FDA recommended that cloned sheep are not to be used for human food due to limited data available.
Last month, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) urged the American public to campaign against the regulator's draft proposal. In October 2006, the group filed a legal petition with the FDA seeking a moratorium on foods produced from cloned animals. It was joined in its efforts by a coalition of consumer, environmental and animal welfare organizations.
CFS called for the establishment of mandatory rules for the pre-market and environmental review of cloned foods. The petition also requested that the Department of Health and Human Services establish a federal review committee to advice FDA on the ethical issues.
"We intend to pursue our legal action to compel FDA to address the many unanswered questions around cloned food," said the CFS.
California's current proposed bill, still in the early phases of the legislative process, would not go into effect until at least next January, if it is approved by all relevant committees.
"It's important to note the bill makes no judgment about the appropriateness or safety of food products from cloned animals; instead, the Senator's intent is simply to ensure California consumers have the ability to make informed choices," a spokesperson for Senator Migden told FoodNavigator-USA.com.