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Cloned Meat: Is Dolly for Dinner?

Company That Tracks Cloned Meat Wants to Pull the Wool From Your Eyes
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 14, 2008 (Boston) -- Many consumers want meat produced by cloning to be easily identified as such. Now a company based in Ireland is promoting its system for tracing the meat of any cloned animal wherever it may go in the food supply. For this tracing system to work, however, the unique DNA profiles of clones must be publicly available.

Patrick Cunningham, PhD, chief science adviser to the Irish government and a founding executive of the company IdentiGEN, advocated for open access to cloned animal DNA at this week's annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston. Major chain stores and meat packers in the United States, he says, want to offer discerning shoppers certifiably "clone free" meat products. "They should have a right to do that," he says.

Cunningham says companies that clone animals should keep a library of "snips" of their DNA. That way, anyone wishing to screen for traces of cloned meat in food could ask a company like his to compare product samples with the genetic profiles of clones on file. Big retailers and food producers in Ireland and the U.K. now use IdentiGEN to certify other qualities of meat products, as well as to assist in safety recalls.

In the United States, Kroger, Safeway, Dean Foods, and Whole Foods have considered marketing "no clone" meat.

Mark Walton, PhD, president of ViaGen, a company that clones animals for use in agriculture, says he doesn't think a DNA tracing system is justified. "It's hard to imagine a scientific reason or a health reason that you would need to follow animals at all," he says.

FDA: Cloned Meat Safe

The FDA has repeatedly assured American consumers that meat produced by cloning is safe to eat, and the agency says it will not require special labeling on food containing products of cloned animals or their offspring sold in the United States. Europe's food safety agency has reached the same conclusion.

Walton attributes consumers' wariness of cloning to "the fear of the unknown."

The use of cloning for producing food is often misunderstood. For one thing, it probably won't be used to make thousands of copies of an animal expressly for slaughter. A cloned cow now costs about $13,500, compared with the market price of about $1,000 for a normal steer.

"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.

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