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Clone food safe, FDA says; no sales foreseen yet

Jan. 16, 2008
Asso­ciated Press

Meat and milk from clned an­i­mals are as safe as that from their coun­ter­parts bred the old-fash­ioned way, the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­istra­t­ion said Tues­day — but sales still won’t beg­in right away.

The de­ci­sion re­moves the last big U.S. reg­­la­tory hur­dle to mar­ket­ing prod­ucts from cloned live­stock, and puts the FDA in con­cert with re­cent safe­ty as­sess­ments from Eu­ro­pe­an food reg­u­la­tors and sev­er­al oth­er na­t­ions.

“Meat and milk from cat­tle, swne and goat clones are as safe as food we eat eve­ry day,” said Ste­phen Sundloff, FDA’s food safe­ty chief.

But the gov­ern­ment has asked an­i­mal cloning co­pa­nies to con­tin­ue a vol­un­tary mor­a­to­ri­um on sales for a lit­tle long­er — not for safe­ty rea­sons, but mar­ket­ing ones.

USDA Un­der­sec­re­tary Bruce Knght called it a tran­si­tion pe­ri­od for “al­low­ing the mar­ket­place to ad­just.” He would­n’t say how long the mor­a­to­ri­um should con­tin­ue.

“This is about mar­ket ac­ce­tance,” Knight added, who said he would be call­ing a meet­ing of in­dus­try lead­ers to de­ter­mine next steps.

Re­gard­less, it still will be years be­fore many foods from cloned an­i­mals reach store sheves, for eco­nom­ic rea­sons: At $10,000 to $20,000 per an­i­mal, they’re a lot more ex­pen­sive than or­di­nary cows, mean­ing pro­duc­ers likely will use clones’ off­spring for meat, not the clone it­self.

And sev­er­al large com­pa­nies — in­clud­ing dairy gi­ant Dan Foods Co. and Hormel Foods Corp. — have said they have no plans to sell milk or meat from cloned an­i­mals be­cause of con­sum­er anx­i­e­ty about the tech­nol­o­gy.

But FDA won’t re­quire food mak­ers to la­bel if their prd­ucts came from cloned an­i­mals, al­though com­pa­nies could do so vol­un­tarily if they knew the source. Last month, meat and dairy pro­duc­ers an­nounced an in­dus­try sys­tem to track cloned live­stock, with an elec­tron­ic iden­ti­fica­t­ion tag on each an­i­mal sold. Cus­tomers would sign a pledge to mar­ket the an­i­mal as a clone.

But that sys­tem is vol­u­tary, and there is no way to tell if milk, for ex­am­ple, came from the daugh­ter of a cloned cow.

“Both the an­i­mals and any food pr­duced from those an­i­mals is in­dis­tin­guish&s from any oth­er food source,” Sundloff said. “There’s no tech­no­log­i­cal way of dis­tin­guish­ing a food that’s come from an an­i­mal that had a clone in its an­ces­try. It’s not pos­si­ble.”

The de­ci­sion was long-expected, but con­tr­ver­sial. De­bate has been fierce with­in the Bush ad­min istra­t­ion as to wheth­er the FDA should move for­ward, largely be­cause of trade con­cerns. Con­sum­er ad­vo­cates pe­ti­tioned against the move, and Con­gress had passed leg­isla­t­ion urg­ing the FDA to study the is­sue more be­fore mov­ing ahead.

“The FDA has acted reck­less­ly,” said Sen. Bar­ba­ra Mkul­ski, D-Md., who spon­sored that leg­isla­t­ion. “Just be­cause some­thing was cre­at­ed in a lab, does­n’t mean we should have to eat it. If we dis­cov­er a prob­lem with cloned food af­ter it is in our food supply and it’s not la­beled, the FDA won’t be able to re­call it like they did Vioxx — the food will al­ready be tainted.

“If you ask what’s for din­ner, it means just about an­thing you can cook up in a lab­o­r­a­to­ry,” said Car­ol Tucker-Foreman of the Con­sum­er Federa­t­ion of Amer­i­ca, who pledged to push for more food pro­duc­ers to shun clones.

The two main U.S. cloning com­a­nies, Vi­a­gen Inc. and Trans Ova Ge­net­ics, al­ready have pro­duced more than 600 cloned an­i­mals for U.S. breed­ers, the vast ma­jor­ity cat­tle, in­clud­ing cop­ies of prize-winning cows and ro­de­o bulls.

“We cer­tainly are pleased,” said Trans Ova Pres­ident Da­vid Fber, who not­ed that pre­vi­ous re­ports by the Na­t­ional Acad­e­my of Sci­ences and oth­ers have reached the same con­clu­sion.

“Our farm­er and ranch­er clients are plesed be­cause it pro­vid­ed them with anoth­er re­pro­duc­tive tool,” he added.

It was a day fore­cast since Sco­tish sci­en­tists an­nounced in 1997 that they had suc­cess­fully cloned Dolly the sheep. Iron­ic­ally, sheep aren’t on the list of FDA’s ap­proved cloned an­i­mals; the agen­cy said there was­n’t as much da­ta about their safe­ty as about cows, pigs and goats.

By its very def­i­ni­tion, a suc­ces­fully cloned an­i­mal should be no dif­fer­ent from the orig­i­nal an­i­mal whose DNA was used to cre­ate it.

But the tech­nol­o­gy has­n’t been pe­rfected — and many at­empts at live­stock cloning still end in fa­tal birth de­fects or with de­formed fe­tus­es dy­ing in the womb. More­o­ver, Dolly was eu­th­a­nized in 2003, well short of her nor­mal life­span, be­cause of a lung dis­ease that raised ques­tions about how cloned an­i­mals will age.

The FDA’s re­port ac­knowl­edges that, “Cur­rently, it is not pos­si­ble to draw any con­lu­sions re­gard­ing the longe­vity of live­stock clones or pos­si­ble long-term health con­se­quences” for the an­i­mal.

But the agen­cy con­clud­ed that cloned an­i­ mals that are born healthy are no dif­fer­ent than their non-cloned coun­ter­parts, and go on to re­pro­duce nor­mally as well.

“The FDA said, ‘We as­sume all the u­healthy an­i­mals will be tak­en out of the food sup­ply,’“ said Jo­seph Mendel­son of the Cen­ter for Food Safe­ty, a con­sum­er ad­vo­ca­cy group that op­poses FDA’s rul­ing. “They’re only look­ing at the small slice of cloned an­i­mals that ap­pear to be healthy. ... It needs a lot fur­ther stu­dy.”


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Meat and milk from cloned animals are as safe as that from their counterparts bred the old-fashioned way, the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.