- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

Last week, the FDA came to the preliminary conclusion that cloned animals and their offspring are as safe to eat as conventional animals. That decision, encapsulated in the executive summary of the draft report, “Animal Cloning: A Risk Assessment,” will be vetted today in a public meeting of the FDA’s Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee. Although many may have a negative emotive response to the idea of eating either an animal clone or its offspring, the FDA’s conclusions appear to be well-warranted.

The report’s authors evaluated the potential risks of consuming food from cloned cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, and their progeny. Not all of the sample sizes were large, but the conclusions were almost identical in each case — such foods are almost certain to be safe for consumption.

That is not surprising, since clones are just that — the genetically identical offspring of healthy animals. They are produced by the commonly used process of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Although reproduction by SCNT has a low rate of success, so do other assisted forms of animal reproduction such as artificial insemination. Fetal abnormalities often result in spontaneous abortions. But those animals that develop normally appear to be indistinguishable from healthy non-clones — even at the molecular level.

It would be extraordinary for healthy animals — clones or otherwise — to create unsafe food. As Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said, “No scientist that I’ve talked to can come up with any rational theory of how that [healthy animals producing unsafe food] could possibly occur.”

However, cloned animals have been in legal limbo since 2001, when the FDA requested that they be kept off the market so that their safety could be assessed. Honoring that voluntary moratorium has caused the owners of such animals some financial hardship by limiting their use and capping their value. Regardless of what happens today, the FDA’s moratorium will stay in place for the next several months while public comments are reviewed and responded to.

The FDA should be able to make a formal determination of the regulatory status of food from cloned animals by sometime next spring. Even if the FDA allows food from cloned animals on the market, it will be rare for individuals to consume it directly because cloning animals is so costly. Instead, the clones will probably be used for breeding, with consumers consuming their offspring.

The FDA has done well to openly and cautiously evaluate the potential risks of food from cloned animals, and it should continue to do so. However, if the food from cloned animals continues to prove as safe as the evidence suggests it will, the FDA should not hesitate to allow it on the market. Consumers can choose from there.

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