Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Food and Drug Administration Gives Go to Allowing People to Eat Cloned Animals

What really can I say about this? Scary…yes. Strange…yes.

Unbelievably, “There are an estimated 650 live clones in the U.S., mostly cattle produced by closely held ViaGen Inc., based in Austin, Texas, and Trans Ova Genetics, of Sioux Center, Iowa. ViaGen charges about $13,500 to copy a cow.”

There was a concerted effort to not allow this to happen. Unfortunately though, when you have such big donors such as Smithfield Foods for it, there’s little hope for it not to be accepted.


Cloned Animals Are Safe for U.S. Food, Agency Says (Update7)


By Catherine Larkin and Beth Jinks

Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Cloned cows, pigs, goats and their offspring are safe to enter the U.S. food supply, regulators said over protests from lawmakers, consumer groups and worried eaters.

The Food and Drug Administration backed the use of cloning in livestock after a seven-year review found no special risks associated with the technology. The Agriculture Department said it plans to keep in place a 2001 voluntary moratorium on the sales of such products until industry and consumer groups can agree on labeling and marketing restrictions.

The FDA received 30,500 comments on its initial proposal in 2006, and Congress urged more research. The agency's decision to move ahead anyway benefits closely held companies that have already cloned hundreds of elite animals. Food producers, including Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. meat processor, and Dean Foods Co., the biggest dairy distributor, said they won't use cloned foods anytime soon.

``It will likely be a long time before such animals would even be available for market,'' said Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson in an e-mail today. ``Whatever measures we ultimately take will be guided by government regulations and the desires of our customers and consumers.''

Cloned products may not reach the U.S. market for years, said Bruce Knight, the Agriculture Department's undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programming, at a press conference.

Equally Safe

``We conclude that meat and milk from cattle, swine, and goat clones are as safe as food we eat every day,'' said Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in a statement today. Authorities lack the authority to require labeling of products from cloned animals, Sundlof said.

European regulators came to the same conclusion as the FDA in a draft assessment of cloning released Jan. 11. The European Food Safety Authority is taking comments until Feb. 25 on its proposal to allow meat and milk from cloned animals.

Cloning has stirred public fascination and ethical debate since Scottish scientists announced in 1997 that they had produced a cloned sheep named Dolly. Concern that eating products from such animals may be unsafe -- and that the animals themselves are needlessly exposed to more health problems -- increased after Dolly, suffering from an incurable lung disease, was euthanized at an early age.

The FDA said today that there isn't enough data to support the safety of food from cloned sheep.

650 Live Clones

Cloning allows ranchers to replicate a prize-winning animal or replace one that is injured or aging. There are an estimated 650 live clones in the U.S., mostly cattle produced by closely held ViaGen Inc., based in Austin, Texas, and Trans Ova Genetics, of Sioux Center, Iowa. ViaGen charges about $13,500 to copy a cow, and it expects the clones to be used exclusively for breeding bigger, stronger and perhaps tastier herds.

``The number of cloned animals in the barnyard today is minuscule compared to the size of the total livestock population,'' ViaGen President Mark Walton said today in an e- mailed statement. ``In addition, clones are to be used as breeding animals, not for consumption.''

Surveys show that many American consumers are reluctant to eat animals produced through biotechnology, although artificial insemination and other reproductive technologies are often used on ranches. A third of adults said they would never buy milk or meat from cloned animals even if the FDA determined it was safe, according to a poll released in 2006 by the Center for Food, Nutrition and Agriculture Policy, at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Smithfield Foods

Smithfield Foods Inc., the world's biggest pork processor, said it would avoid sales of products from cloned animals while reviewing the science, rules and public opinion.

``We will continue to monitor further scientific research on this technology,'' while focusing on ``careful selective breeding and genetic research,'' Smithfield, of Smithfield, Virginia, said today in a statement. The company already has an agreement with ViaGen for genetic research.

Dallas-based Dean Foods won't use milk from clones, though it hasn't reached a decision on their progeny, spokeswoman Marguerite Copel said on Jan. 7.

ViaGen and Trans Ova have pledged to register all of their livestock clones to ensure that food manufacturers can exclude the animals if they choose. The program won't apply to the natural-born offspring of replicated animals because they are considered impossible to track or identify through tests.

Industry groups, including the American Meat Institute, the National Milk Producers Federation, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, have said they support registering clones as a way to ease public queasiness.

Rodeo Horses, Bucking Bulls

About 80 percent of ViaGen's animals so far have gone into the entertainment business as rodeo horses, bucking bulls and show cows. The rest went to ranchers betting the FDA would repeal the voluntary moratorium on sale of food from clones and their offspring.

Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who has raised objections to cloned food, sent a letter in December to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach telling him not to ``pull a fast one'' by acting on cloned foods without conducting additional studies sought by lawmakers.

``The FDA has acted recklessly and I am profoundly disappointed in their rush to approve cloned foods,'' Mikulski said today in an e-mailed statement.

The Senate included an amendment that would have required more study of cloning in a $286 billion farm bill that awaits negotiation with the House. Congress earlier added language urging the FDA to delay action in an omnibus spending measure signed by President George W. Bush.

Call for Hearings

``Congress should hold hearings on the animal-welfare, ethical, and environmental implications,'' said Gregory Jaffe, director of biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based advocacy group, in an e-mail today. ``FDA is charged with assessing the safety issues surrounding animal cloning. It is not the agency's job to address other objections that make cloned animals controversial.''

To produce clones, scientists grow copies of cells from the original animal in a lab dish, and then extract genetic material. The DNA from the animal to be cloned is inserted into an egg whose nucleus has been removed, and the resulting embryo is implanted in an animal that will serve as the clone's surrogate mother.

Supporters say the technology isn't a big leap from artificial insemination or genetically modifying rice and corn, tools that are now widely used on cattle ranches and farms.

``This is an additional technology that will find a place to contribute to an increased food supply and a safer food supply,'' said Jerry Baker, chief executive officer of the Federation of Animal Science Societies in Savoy, Illinois, in a Jan. 7 phone interview. The group represents more than 40,000 scientists in animal agriculture around the world.

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