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FDA: Cloned Meat Safe continued...

"Cloning technology is in fact a breeding technology," Walton says.

The process is called "somatic cell nuclear transfer," which is how the famous sheep "Dolly" was cloned in 1996. Producers use this process to clone highly desirable breeding animals. For decades, farmers have routinely ordered semen from choice male animals to artificially inseminate their herds, but one prize stud can only produce so much semen. In theory, 10, 20, 100, or more clones of him increase the yield of his genetic material that many times.

So the clone's offspring is what will be most commonly eaten. That doesn't mean people won't ever eat clones, however. Even breeding livestock are sold for meat once they're past their prime. At present, the food industry is supposed to be observing a voluntary moratorium on selling the meat of clones the U.S., but "it's not illegal to put clones on the market," Cunningham says.

A national poll conducted in 2007 by the Consumers Union, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, found that 89% of those polled wanted labels to identify food containing cloned animal products. The Consumers Union opposes the use of cloning in agriculture.

Labeling isn't as simple as slapping a sticker on a steak that comes from a clone. Parts of a single beef cow, for example, can end up in countless different consumer products. DNA can be retrieved from meat even if it has been cooked, frozen, or processed in other ways. With genetic profiles, clones or offspring of clones could be detected in anything from soup to sirloin.

Otherwise, it is very difficult to trace meat in processed foods back to specific animals. Unlike Europe and Canada, the United States does not have a system in place to trace the provenance of meat from farm to feedlot to factory to freezer.

Walton says it could be years before cloning catches up with conventional breeding methods in terms of cost and becomes widely used, but it is being done today. He says his company has cloned about 400-500 animals in the past four years. "They're out there," he says.

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