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Cloned Foods

January 8, 2008

Cloning refers to somatic (non-sex) cell nuclear transfer. In cloning, the nucleus from a somatic cell is transferred to an oocyte (egg cell) from which the nucleus has been removed. The nuclear DNA of any offspring arising from cloning is identical to that of the original donor.

The intraurerine mortality rate of cloned animals is relatively high. Newborn clones are less healthy, generally, than animals reproduced normally. If a clone survives the first 48 hours after birth, however, it will usually grow and mature to the point where it is largely indistinguishable from normal animals. Cloning could provide a way to supplement the supply of meat and other protein-rich animal products.

In December, 2006, FDA issued draft guidance on allowing meat and milk from cloned cows into the food chain in the United States. In a risk assessment (“RA”), the Agency found that the technology posed no additional safety risks as compared to food derived from animals born through other assisted reproductive technologies in use in U.S. agriculture. Under FDA’s guidance, the labeling in milk and meat products from cloned animals would be no different from that on conventional products.

Opponents of the use of cloned animals as food have included certain scientists, health groups, consumer advocates and occasionally industry. Predictably enough, the Center for Science in the Public Interest said that the RA was based on “false assumptions and misrepresented findings.” Even some food firms have publicly taken positions hostile to cloned products. In January of 2007, California Dairy, the state’s largest dairy producer, stated that it “will not accept milk from cloned cows, effective immediately.”

The Center for Food Safety (“CFS”) published a review of FDA’s RA in March of 2007, claiming that that assessment was based on “fraudulent assumptions and misrepresented findings.” The Center has published a report called “Not Ready for Prime Time,” alleging that FDA’s RA relies on only three peer-reviewed food safety studies, all focused on milk from cloned cows. The CFS alleged that the studies relied upon were funded by clone-making biotech firms. Other opponents include Consumers Union and the Humane Society of the United States, among others.

Consumption of foods from cloned animals does have its supporters, however. The Federation of Animal Science Societies has published a statement on FDA’s draft risk assessment. It characterized FDA’s RA as “one of the most rigorous food safety reviews ever conducted.” FASS also ran print ads in support of its “Risk-based approach to evaluate animals claims and their progeny – draft” published on 12-28-06. The RA states “… the available data has (sic) not identified any food consumption risks or subtle hazards in health claims of cattle, swine, or goats. Thus, edible products from healthy clones that meet existing requirements for meat and milk in commerce pose no increased food consumption risk(s) relative to comparable products from sexually derived animals.” FASS has pointed out potential benefit from increased food production, disease-resistance, and reproductive efficiency. Among its supporters is Dr. Ian Wilmut, whose work led to the creation of Dolly the sheep.

In the Farm Bill, recently enacted, an amendment originating in the Senate requires review of both the human health effects and the economic impact of introducing cloned foods. The amendment directs the National Academy of Sciences to convene a panel of leading scientists to review FDA’s initial decision that food from cloned animals is safe. The panel is to determine potential health impacts of cloned foods on human consumers including possible health effects of less milk consumption as a result of consumer avoidance of cloned foods. The amendment directs the U.S.D.A. to examine consumer acceptance of cloned foods and the likely impact they could have on domestic and International markets. The upshot appears to be that, for now, progress in utilizing cloned animals as a food source will probably slow to a crawl in the U.S.