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WASHINGTON: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday in a draft risk assessment that meat and milk from clones of adult cattle, pigs and goats, as well as from their offspring, are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals.
"Based on FDA's analysis of hundreds of peer-reviewed publications and other studies on the health and food composition of clones and their offspring, the draft risk assessment has determined that meat and milk from clones and their offspring are as safe as food we eat every day," noted Stephen F. Sundlof, director of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, in a statement. "Cloning poses no unique risks to animal health when compared to other assisted reproductive technologies currently in use in U.S. agriculture."
The nod from FDA comes after five years, slowed by strong opposition from food companies and the agricultural industry, which fear a massive consumer backlash against such foods, particularly in Europe.
In fact, allowing foods from cloned animals to be sold could lead to a 15 percent drop in purchases of U.S. dairy products, according to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Boston Globe reported.
The agency also issued a proposed risk management plan to address risks to animal health and potential remaining uncertainties related to feed and food from animal clones and their offspring, and a draft guidance for industry, aimed at producers, livestock breeders, farmers and ranchers, which deals with the use of food and feed products and their offspring.
"Because the release of the draft risk assessment and proposed risk management plan marks the beginning of our interaction with the public on these issues, we are continuing to ask producers of clones and livestock breeders to voluntarily refrain from introducing food products from these animals into commerce so that we will have the opportunity to consider the public's comments and to issue any final documents as warranted," said Sundlof.
Although a decision on whether cloned products would be labeled is still to come, agency officials don't believe labeling to be necessary, as federal researchers found virtually no difference between products from clones and food from conventionally bred animals.
Before giving its final approval, FDA is seeking comments from the public on the three documents for the next 90 days.
Reaction to the news from affected industries was swift and predictably mixed. Connie Tipton, president and c.e.o. of the Washington-based International Dairy Foods Association, which represents the nation's dairy manufacturing and marketing industries and their suppliers, sounded a cautionary note: "While we are reassured that FDA's draft review finds no health or safety issues with food from cloned animals, we support FDA's decision to maintain the moratorium on milk and meat from cloned animals entering the food supply during the public comment period."
She added that it "remains to be seen whether" dairy farmers will adopt cloning technology, as milk from cloned cows currently offers "no consumer benefit." According to Tipton, there are only about 150 cloned dairy cows out of the 9 million total in the United States.
Clearly, shopper acceptance of such products was on her mind as she noted: "Consumers have expressed concerns about buying food from cloned animals. Once FDA has finalized its review, it will be up to individual companies to decide on the marketing of products made from milk from cloned cows."
Meanwhile, Jim Greenwood, president and c.e.o. of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which represents more than 1,100 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers, and related organizations across the United States and 31 other nations, was unreservedly enthusiastic: "Animal cloning is the latest step in a long history of reproductive tools for farmers and ranchers, and can effectively help livestock producers deliver what consumers want: high-quality, safe, abundant, and nutritious foods in a conscientious and consistent manner. Globally, this technology may provide people in developing countries with greater access to protein-rich animal food products, which will increase community health and well-being."
A clone is a genetic copy of a donor animal, as opposed to genetic engineering, which involves altering, adding or deleting DNA. Some critics argue that the safety of cloning has still not been established, and that more animals die or are deformed as a result of cloning than by other reproductive methods.