FDA rules on cloned animal products

Agency says milk, meat would be safe to eat

October 31, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Milk and meat from cloned animals are safe to eat, the Food and Drug Administration has tentatively concluded, a finding that could eventually clear the way for such products to reach supermarket shelves and for cloning to be widely used to breed livestock.

The agency's conclusions are being released today in advance of a public meeting on the issue Tuesday in Rockville. Agency officials said that after receiving public comments, they hope to outline by late spring their views on how, if at all, cloning would be regulated, including whether food from cloned animals should be labeled.

But if the preliminary conclusion stands, labeling would not be needed and there would be little regulation, Stephen Sundlof, director of the agency's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said in an interview.

"There appears to be few if any safety concerns," Sundlof said. He added, "If we consider them materially the same as traditional foods, the role for the FDA would be minimal."

There are only several hundred cloned cattle in the nation's total of about 100 million, so experts do not expect a big influx of food from cloned animals if it were allowed. Cloning an animal can cost about $20,000, too expensive to use to make an animal just for its milk or meat.

"That would make about a $100 hamburger," said John C. Matheson, a senior FDA regulatory scientist who led the agency's assessment.

The major safety concern is that cloning results in many failed animal pregnancies and abnormal babies that are larger than normal and have other medical problems, raising the risk that milk or meat from such animals could be tainted. But the FDA said that clones that survive past early childhood appear to be as healthy as other animals and therefore food from them should be safe.

Still, any move to allow food from cloned animals or their offspring is expected to face some opposition. Some critics say the evidence of safety is not sufficient. Even the FDA concedes its conclusions are based on somewhat scanty data, particularly for animals other than cows. Others say there are concerns to consider besides food safety, like the ethical implications of cloning, its effects on animal welfare and on farming.

"I think it warrants a discussion that goes beyond the narrowest scientific issues," said Carol Tucker Foreman, director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America. She said polls have shown that U.S. consumers are ill at ease with animal cloning.

"When you say animal cloning, many people react as if you are at least opening the door to human cloning," she said.

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