June 14, 2001 (Washington) -- So how about a steak dinner washed down with milk, all from cloned cattle?
Seem unlikely? Well, American companies have already cloned dozens and dozens of cattle for breeding and other purposes, and they're planning to sell them to serve our thirsts and appetites.
That is, as soon as the government says it's OK for clones to be in the food supply.
For now, the FDA has asked companies not to introduce any cloned livestock into the food chain until scientists further review the situation and the agency decides exactly what authority it has over the new creations.
Meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences is expected to release a report on the safety of food from cloned animals as early as late this year.
But according to Ron Gillespie, vice president of marketing at the cattle-cloning firm Cyagra, "We have every rational and scientific reason to believe that it is safe." He says, "The FDA shares that opinion, and people that we work with there have told us pointedly that they expect it to be approved."
An FDA spokeswoman did not return calls for comment.
Gillespie says that the agency's caution is no problem for them, especially since the earliest that any of Cyagra's cloned cattle will begin milking is 2003.
Peter Steinerman, spokesman for Wisconsin-based animal cloning firm Infigen -- which boasts the world's largest herd of cloned cattle -- tells WebMD that its cattle are already milking.
But he says that they will not be sold to dairy farmers until the FDA weighs in with any judgments.
Although the cattle cloning industry says it is confident in the science that shows consuming cloned animals and their products aren't a health risk, cloners are worried about public perception, in the wake of widespread fears over both genetically modified food and human cloning.
"Those two issues have greatly clouded animal cloning and have made it more [confusing] for people," Gillespie tells WebMD.
For its part, Infigen is studying milk from clones with several universities, including the University of Wisconsin.
"We will be submitting those data to the FDA probably toward the end of the summer," Steinerman says. "The company wants to be sure that any prospective concerns or issues are addressed before they become controversial. We are not doing this study because there was any concern, but because we want to minimize any risk perceptions and have the science supporting any introduction of this into the food chain."
Controversial human cloning researcher Panos Zavos, PhD, tells WebMD that fears about milk from cloned cows are unfounded. "It's a joke," he says. "It's like telling me that an identical twin, which is a clone, has a biological disease of some sort that can be transferred to another being."
But citing the sudden death of a cloned cow at the University of Tennessee earlier this month, University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Art Caplan, PhD, tells WebMD, "There are all kinds of signals that there are real biological problems with the health of clones."
"That's what we are up against," Says Gillespie. "Everybody is ready to believe that there was something [wrong with the clone]. I haven't seen anything from the University of Tennessee to judge that the animal died from anything other than some natural cause."
Meanwhile, companies are also interested in genetically modified clones, once they work out all the kinks with "simple" cloned animals.
For example, Infigen says that it is experimenting with genetically modified cattle to help produce useful pharmaceutical proteins and to make a blood clotting factor that the American Red Cross hopes to commercialize. It is also cloning genetically modified pigs to possibly use their organs as replacement organs in humans.
"That's where we'll no doubt spend a lot of time, effort, and money -- getting those approved," Gillespie says.