- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Food and Drug Administration said yesterday that meat and milk from cloned animals is safe, opening the door for pork chops and milk from clones to be sold on grocery shelves late next year.

A risk assessment released yesterday by the FDA shows that there is no public health risk from eating cloned foods. If that report withstands the federal regulatory process, Americans could become the first people in the world to serve bacon and hamburgers from cloned animals.

Federal officials would not say exactly when sales of the cloned-animal products — from cows, pigs and goats — could become a reality, but “it is conceivable” that late next year a moratorium banning cloned-animal products could be lifted.

“It is almost inconceivable with what we know that this technology will introduce hazards to public health,” said Stephen Sundlof, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at FDA. “We have looked for hazards, and they just are not there.”

The FDA’s research focused solely on cloned animals and did not include studies on how humans reacted to eating foods from genetically engineered animals, Dr. Sundlof said.

Because of unknown health risks associated with cloning, the FDA put a voluntary moratorium on the sale of meat and milk from cloned animals in 2001.

Cloning lets farmers and ranchers make copies of exceptional animals, such as pigs that fatten rapidly or cows that are superior milk producers. Cloning currently is not practiced specifically to produce food; rather, farmers generally use cloned cows or pigs to breed.

“It remains to be seen whether dairy farmers will choose to use [cloning technology]. There is currently no consumer benefits in milk from cloned cows,” the International Dairy Foods Association said yesterday.

The FDA does not keep a registry of how many cloned animals there are in the country, but industry officials estimate there could be as many as 600 cloned cows in the United States and 200 pigs. The cost of cloning an animal is steep, about $20,000 each to produce.

The likelihood of cloned meat and dairy products entering the food supply will remain slight in the short term even if the moratorium is lifted. Because of the high cost of the technology, cloned animals are primarily used for breeding, not for food, Dr. Sundlof said. Therefore, consumers would mostly get food from their offspring and not the clones themselves.

Cloned animals are derived from the healthiest animals in the herd and therefore are more disease-resistant and offer leaner meat than conventionally produced animals, Dr. Sundlof said.

But that assertion is disputed by the Consumers Union, a nonprofit consumer-safety organization that says the cloning process produces a sick animal that often dies soon after being reproduced. Furthermore, the organization contends that cloning weakens animals’ disease resistance because the cloned animals need more antibiotics to survive.

“There is a significant concern that we will be getting animals that are more prone to disease,” said Jean Halloran, a food-policy specialist with Consumers Union.

If the FDA does approve the cloned-animal food products, the agency does not think the products will have to be labeled as coming from cloned animals or their offspring.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, who will head the House Appropriations agriculture subcommittee, said lawmakers should consider whether disclosure and labeling are appropriate for food from cloned animals.

Consumer groups, including Consumers Union, are adamantly in favor of a labeling requirement.

“Consumers are going to be having a product that has potential safety issues and has a whole load of ethical issues tied to it, without any labeling,” said Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, a Washington environmental advocacy organization.

The FDA has not made a final decision on the labeling requirement but did say that retailers and manufacturers may be able to label food products “clone free,” if the label is “truthful and does not imply it is safer than other products,” Dr. Sundlof said.

The FDA decision is based on substantial data from a number of studies, all of which have concluded that milk and meat from cloned animals is virtually identical to products from conventional animals.

“None of the studies … identify any remarkable nutritionally or toxicologically important differences in the composition of the meat or milk,” according to a draft of the risk assessment to be published Monday in Theriogenology, a scientific journal on animal reproduction. The paper was written by scientists at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Sundlof said the FDA currently does not have enough information to decide whether food from sheep clones is safe.



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