EXTRACT: FDA officials said that they saw little problem with the controversial technology, which could result in cloned food being sold in the US within months without any labels identifying its origins. They added that cloned food products, if approved, could also be exported.
(See, for example, the extensive list below of US meat and dairy exports to the UK.)
Cloned milk and meat expected to go on sale in months after winning US approval
Tim Reid in Washington and Nigel Hawkes
The Times, December 29 2006 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,11069-2522437,00.html
*Food won't be labelled as cloned
*UK must decide if it will follow suit
The sale of milk and meat from cloned animals moved a step closer yesterday after the US Government ruled that the products were safe to eat and could be sold in supermarkets without labelling.
The landmark draft decision, taken by the US Food and Drugs Administration, was condemned by consumer groups and food safety experts, who gave warning of the implications for food consumption throughout the world.
FDA officials said that they saw little problem with the controversial technology, which could result in cloned food being sold in the US within months without any labels identifying its origins. They added that cloned food products, if approved, could also be exported.
Authorities in Britain have yet to address the issue of the sale of food from cloned animals, including those approved by the US - cattle, pigs and goats. However, precedents set by the FDA are often followed by UK and European authorities. The Food Standards Agency said last night that it had not received an applications for the marketing of food products from cloned animals in the United Kingdom.
The move would have to be approved by the European Union before such products could be introduced, even if they were only being imported from the US. The UK's Advisory Committee for Novel Foods would also be consulted.
The FDA, which overseas food safety for the US Government, determined after a five-year review that food from cloned livestock was as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals. The decision was all the more controversial because the agency declared that special labels were not needed to alert shoppers to its origin.
Decrying the ruling, consumer groups gave warning that cloned food would enter the food chain untested on humans, and from a field of science in which cloned animals are often born sick or with severe abnormalities. "Consumers are going to be having a product that has potential safety issues and a whole load of ethical issues tied to it, without any labelling," said Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Washington-based Centre for Food Safety.
Some US consumer groups maintain that surrogate mothers, in which the cloned animals are grown, are treated with high levels of hormones. They claim that clones are often born with severely compromised immune systems and receive massive doses of antibiotics, opening the way for large quantities of pharmaceuticals to enter the food supply.
The US National Academy of Sciences also warned recently that the commercialisation of cloned livestock for food production could increase the incidence of food-borne illness, such as E-coli infections.
Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat senator from Maryland, wrote in an open letter to the FDA: "Just because a scientist can manufacture food in the laboratory, should Americans be required to eat it?" Experts say it would probably take years for sales of cloned food to begin in earnest, because the technology’s high cost makes it prohibitive for most farmers. It costs about $15,000 (GBP7,500) to clone one dairy cow. But already several hundred cattle among America’s nine million have been cloned.
The FDA pointed out that many consumers confuse cloning with genetic modification. To produce a clone, the nucleus of a donor egg is removed and replaced with the DNA of a cow or other animal. A tiny electric shock coaxes the egg to grow into a copy of the original animal. Supporters of the technology say that it will be used primarily for breeding good milk and meat producers, and that produce will most likely be drawn from offspring, rather than the cloned animal.
The FDA said yesterday that meat and milk from clones was as safe to consume as products derived from naturally raised animals. Within six to eighteen months, cloned animals were "virtually indistinguishable" from conventionally-bred livestock, it said. "Meat and milk from cattle, swine and goat clones is as safe to eat as the food we eat every day," said Stephen F. Sundlof, the director of the FDA Centre for Veterinary Medicine.
Final approval for lifting the current ban on cloned food could come early next year. The agency will accept comments from the public for the next three months before announcing a final decision.
The Consumer Federation of America said that it would run a publicity campaign to ask food companies and supermarkets to refuse to sell cloned food. Polls show already that most Americans do not favour eating such a product, and many food companies are skittish about selling cloned food.
Opponents also maintain that cloning results in high failure rates and distress for the cloned animals. The Centre for Food Safety points to the example of Greg Wiles, whose Maryland farm was the first to have cloned cows. He says he told the FDA that one of his cloned cows was having terrible health problems, but was ignored.
Imports from the US to the UK
Meat: total 3,146 tonnes
2,995 tonnes fresh pork cuts, bone-in
78 tonnes fresh bovine meat and offal (other than liver)
42 tonnes poultry meat and offal (other than liver)
26 tonnes bovine meat, fresh or chilled, boneless
3 tonnes bovine meat, bone in
1 tonne pork meat and offal (other than liver)
1 tonne bovine meat, bone in, frozen
Dairy: total 1,216 tonnes
1,172 tonnes of ice cream and other edible ices
22 tonnes of powdered cheese
11 tonnes of yoghurt
10 tonnes of fresh (unripened or uncured) cheese 1 tonne of whey and modified whey
For 2005 Source: Defra