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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cloned Foods and Milk Safe, says FDA

"It is beyond our imagination to even find a theory that would cause the food to be unsafe."

With that statement summarizing the science on the issue, Stephen Sundlof, the chief food-safety expert at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) threw down the gauntlet to activists who are sure to find it within their imaginations to denounce the FDA. It is abandoning its "voluntary" moratorium on food and milk from the offspring of cloned cows, pigs and goats and allowing them to go to market as safe for human consumption.

A clone, no matter how many bad science fiction movies you've seen, is merely an identical twin. They are created by in vitro fertilization in the same way as many other animals these days. You won't even be eating clones, by the way. Only the offspring of clones will be entered into the food chain for consumption. The food will not need any special labels that call attention to its origination in a cloned ancestor.

You're sure to hear endless debate about the subject in the future, so let's start out with the actual science.

The Washington Post ran Selected Excerpts from Animal Cloning: A Risk Assessment January 2008

Center for Veterinary Medicine
U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Conclusions Regarding Food Consumption Risks from Bovine Clones and their Progeny.

The simple summary is that the risks and problems are equivalent to those from any other form of breeding animals. (You might say that this is a reason not to eat animal-based foods, but that logic would also exclude plant material because of the known deaths from E. coli outbreaks in spinach and lettuce over the past year. And it would exclude raw milk because of similar problems.)

Here's the text for one item of specific interest: cloned milk:

Summary Statement on Composition of Milk from Clones

Several peer-reviewed studies describe the composition of milk from bovine clones. In addition to gross composition (percent solids, fat, protein, and lactose), some reports include a detailed analysis of fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, and in some cases, comparisons are made with previously published reference values for milk composition. These studies indicate that milk from cow clones is not significantly different in composition from milk from non-clones. Some minor differences have been identified in the composition of milk from clones compared to non-clones or reference values, but in each of these reports, the authors attribute the minor differences to diet, environmental conditions, small numbers of animals, and limited numbers of genotypes, rather than to cloning per se. None of these differences, however, indicate the presence of hazards that could pose food consumption risks, as they all fall within published historical values for milk. We therefore that milk derived from bovine clones does is not materially different from milk from milk from conventionally bred cattle.

For more information about the debate, the politics, and the sure-to-come reaction:

FDA to Back Food From Cloned Animals, by Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writer.

Son of Frankenfood?, from The Economist magazine.

A cloned cheeseburger? Don't fire up the coals yet, by Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer.

Even though it looks like the U.S. will be the first nation to give official approval, Europe may not be far behind. An article by Dominique Patton on says that:
Meat and dairy products from cloned animals are probably safe for human consumption, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded in a draft opinion released on Friday.

"Based on current knowledge, there is no expectation that clones or their progeny would introduce any new food safety risks compared with conventionally bred animals," the preliminary report said.

It said that meat and milk obtained from healthy cattle and pig clones and their offspring are "within the normal range with respect to the composition and nutritional value of similar products obtained from conventionally bred animals".

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