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Animal Clones Safe to Eat, FDA Says

Oct. 31, 2003 -- Cloned beef tastes like beef and the FDA says cloned animals and animal products seem to be safe to eat as well.

A new FDA report explains the findings thus far on animal cloning and the prospects for human consumption. The safety of eating food products from animal clones -- and the risk to animals involved in the cloning process -- will be discussed at a public meeting of FDA's Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee on Nov. 4.

Today's method of animal cloning has only been around since 1996. It involves a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer, in which genetic information from one animal is inserted into an egg that has had its nucleus removed. The resulting embryo is implanted into a surrogate mother, which carries the fetus to birth. Dolly the sheep -- who passed away in February 2003 -- was created in 1996 using this technology.

In the U.S., several hundred cattle have been cloned, says rancher and veterinarian Donald Coover, DVM of Galesburg, Kan. Cloned pigs, goats, and sheep may join them some day on America's dinner table.

Five of the cattle clones were described as "normal and healthy as any calves I've ever raised," says Coover in a FDA news release. The calves, born in 2001, will soon be ready to propagate herds of high-quality beef cattle.

"Clones are biological copies of normal animals," says Larisa Rudenko, PhD, a molecular biologist and risk assessor in the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. "In theory, they're pretty close to identical twins of an adult animal."

Indeed, over the last two years, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has found that food products derived from animal clones and their offspring are likely to be as safe as food from their nonclone counterparts.

The NAS found that healthy adult animal clones are virtually indistinguishable from "normal" animals, based on the evidence available.

But until all safety issues are resolved, the FDA has ordered that cloned animals or animal products be withheld from the nation's food supply.

It's unlikely that you will eat a cloned animal anytime soon. At a cost of $20,000 each to produce, clones are used for breeding -- not for food. But some scientists and farmers are looking at the descendants of cloned cattle, pigs, goats, and sheep as potential sources for food and clothing, if the FDA gives the OK.

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