The Guardian
November 1, 2003

Cloned Meat a Step Nearer US Menus

Food agency gives the all clear, but it will be years before
test-tube animals are cheap enough to eat

by Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington

America moved a step closer to serving meat and milk from cloned
animals or their progeny yesterday when the government's food
regulation agency said they would be as safe to eat as conventional

The risk assessment by the FDA concluded that adult barnyard clones -
cattle, sheep, goats and pigs - are virtually indistinguishable from
traditionally bred livestock.

"The finding means that food products derived from animal clones are
likely to be as safe as corresponding products from non-clones, or as
safe as foods that we eat everyday," the study says. It does not
address animal welfare, environmental safety, or ethical questions.

A summary of the 300-page study on the FDA website minimizes the
impact of cloning on animal health, although it points out that
clones tend to be oversized at birth and suffer health problems in

It said the existing food regulations would ensure that malformed and
unhealthy clones did not reach the slaughterhouse or milking shed.

Therefore, the study concluded, the only potential hazard that could
arise would be clones which appeared outwardly normal but carried
physical anomalies.

The assessment falls in line with the prevailing view in the
scientific establishment in America, and was guided by a study by the
National Academies of Science which arrived at a nearly identical
conclusion last year.

"As a member of the [NAS] committee, it was my recollection that no
one on the committee had any concerns about the consumption of food
from cloned animals," said Michael Roberts, an animal scientist at
the University of Missouri.

"There were no substantial concerns resulting from consumption of
cloned animals as long as those animals were not genetically

Yesterday's announcement does not mean that Americans will be pouring
cloned milk over their cornflakes in the immediate future.

Following the study's release, the FDA is beginning 60 days of public
consultation on animal clones.

It has yet to contemplate the rules for marketing clone products. But
the study does hasten the day when it will free farmers from a
two-year voluntary ban on the sale of products of cloned animals:
meat, milk, genetic material and offspring.

The move has been impatiently awaited by US breeders who have been
freezing the embryos and sperm of clones and their offspring for more
than a year, with a view to selling elite specimens.

Meanwhile, the products of clones are simply too expensive to eat.

"The farmer is spending $15,000 or $20,000 for an animal, so he is
not going to turn it into tenderloin," said Kim Waddell, scientific
director of the NAS study.

He predicts that it would be a couple of barnyard generations before
clones entered the food market.

Nevertheless, the study could prompt a debate about food and animal
safety in the US, where people have been largely indifferent to
genetically modified foods - or at least that is the hope of
environmental campaigners.

"I think they have realized that consumers are going to be concerned
at this issue, and there is probably wide scale public resistance to
eating products of cloned animal," says Joe Mendelson, the legal
director of the Center for Food Safety, which is opposed to cloned
food products.

But that would need Americans to reconsider their attitude towards
biotechnology and food.

As much as 80% of their processed food is believed to contain a
component from a genetically modified crop: there are no labeling
requirements to confirm or confound the belief.

Only 52% of Americans are even aware that genetically modified food
products are sold by their local supermarkets, according to an
opinion poll two weeks ago from the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers

Only 41% are in favor of GM food.

It also found that only 27% of Americans approved of animal-based GM food.