Dec. 28, 2006 -- Cloned animals are safe to eat, says the FDA.
That finding comes in a draft risk assessment from the FDA, the agency responsible for the safety of America's food.
However, the current voluntary ban on cloned foods remains in effect pending public comment.
The FDA will issue a final ruling after the public comment period closes April 2, 2007. The ban could be lifted before the end of 2007.
Stephen F. Sundlof, DVM, PhD, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, announced the FDA's findings at a press conference today.
Study Calls Cloned Meat Safe
"The draft risk assessment concludes that meat and milk from cattle, swine, and goat clones are as safe to eat as meat and milk from noncloned animals," Sundlof said.
"Cloning poses no unique risks to animals not already seen with other assisted reproductive technologies already used in agriculture," he said.
No other nation has yet approved foods from cloned animals. However, Sundlof says France earlier issued a risk assessment with the same findings as those reached by the FDA.
Because it's expensive to clone animals -- a cloned animal costs about $20,000 to produce -- cloning would likely be used to copy elite breeding animals, not to create meat.
However, at the end of their breeding years, cloned animals might be used for meat.
No Special Labeling
Sundlof says the FDA will not require meat from clones or their offspring to carry special labels. That, he says, is because the agency and its scientific advisors can find no difference between cloned animals and other animals.
In its risk assessment, the FDA notes that young clones often have health problems. Similar problems also occur in animals bred by in vitro fertilization -- but they are more common in cloning, which is a newer technology.
The FDA's risk assessment notes that sick animals already are removed from the food supply.
Food inspection processes identify animals with obvious health problems. Since cloned animals have no "subtle" differences from animals born via sexual reproduction, the FDA assessment found no safety problem in cloned animals.
Cloning Different from Genetic Engineering
Cloning is not the same as genetic engineering. No new genetic material is added to the animals. Instead, the animals are exact genetic copies of the animal being cloned.
"Clones are identical twins of the donor animal, just born at a different time," Sundlof says. "So cloners can produce a genetic duplicate of an animal without introducing anything new.
"This will allow breeders to introduce desirable traits into stock faster than with ordinary breeding," he explains.
Along with its risk assessment, the FDA issued a risk management plan to address "risks to animal health and potential remaining uncertainties associated with feed and food from animal clones and their offspring."
Also, Sundlof says, the FDA will create a free, public database with all available scientific data on clones, their health, and the composition of meat and milk derived from clones.
Anyone wishing to comment on the FDA's risk assessment may do so at the agency's web site.