Meat and milk from the offspring of cloned animals may already be part of the U.S. food supply, the Food and Drug Administration announced this week. While the cloning process is too expensive (about $20,000 per animal) to justify creating clones that will be turned into hamburgers, some ranchers have cloned animals with desirable traits, which they then breed the old-fashioned way to create offspring. Officials said
it is impossible to differentiate between cloned animals, their offspring and conventionally bred animals, making it difficult to know if offspring are in the food supply [Reuters].
The use of cloned livestock--particularly cows, swine, and sheep--has been fiercely debated in the United States and Europe. In January, the FDA declared that cloned animals and their offspring were as safe to eat as conventionally bred animals; regulators still ask that food companies follow a voluntary moratorium on using cloned animals for food production, but no such moratorium exists for the clones' natural offspring. Those offspring may have made it into the food supply, a U.S. Agriculture Department spokesman said, but
"they would be a very limited number because of the very few number of clones that are out there and relatively few of those clones are at an age where they would be parenting" [Reuters].
European regulators have taken a much dimmer view of the cloning industry, and yesterday the European Parliament proposed an official ban on using clones or their offspring for food production.
Several expert groups, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies, outlined problems such as the animals' well-being and the higher mortality rate of cloned animals. They also stressed that cloning coould considerably reduce the gene pool diversity and increase the risk of whole herds being hit by an illness they are all particularly susceptible to [AFP].
Here in the United States, 20 food companies responded to the FDA's latest announcement by promising not to use cloned livestock, citing consumer polls that showed consumers have health, ethical, and environmental concerns regarding cloned meat.
Basil Maglaris, a spokesman for Kraft, the U.S.'s largest food company by revenue and a major cheese producer, said the company has told suppliers it will accept only ingredients from conventional animals. "The surveys we've seen indicate that consumers aren't receptive to ingredients from cloned animals," he said [The Wall Street Journal].
However, Kraft's current pledge only applies to the clones themselves, not to their offspring.
Image: flickr/ms. Tea
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