Friday, December 29, 2006

FDA Says Food From Cloned Animals Is Safe To Eat

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing to rule that food from cloned animals is as safe to eat as food from conventionally reared ones.

The proposed ruling was issued yesterday, December 28th, and is currently in draft status, until the 90-day public consultation elapses after which it will be made final.

The FDA's proposed ruling is in three parts: a risk assessment, a risk management plan, and information for the food industry.

The risk assessment proposes that eating meat and milk from cloned adult cattle, pigs, goats and their offspring is as safe as eating those products from animals reared in the conventional way. Sheep are not mentioned because there is not enough evidence on sheep cloning to give a reliable risk assessment.

The FDA investigated the relevant scientific evidence and an independent panel of experts on animal health and cloning reviewed and agreed with their findings. The findings are in line with a 2002 report from the National Academies of Sciences.

Dr Stephen Sundlof, Director of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine said in a press release yesterday: "Based on FDA's analysis of hundreds of peer-reviewed publications and other studies on the health and food composition of clones and their offspring, the draft risk assessment has determined that meat and milk from clones and their offspring are as safe as food we eat every day."

Dr Sundlof adds that cloning presents no added risk when it is compared to the "other assisted reproductive technologies" currently used by US farmers.

The risk management plan outlines measures that the FDA recommends for the care of animals used in or resulting from cloning technology. They also ask that producers hold back from selling food from cloned animals until the consultation process has elapsed, its outcome is reviewed and the FDA's final ruling is made.

Cloning is where a cloned animal is a genetic copy of its donor "sibling" - in the same way as identical twins have the same genetic code because they come from the same egg and sperm. The difference is that the clone does not start life in the womb alongside its "sibling", but at a later stage, from cells taken from an adult donor. So it is like having identical twins but one is already an adult when the other is born.

The cells from the donor are inserted into an egg from which the DNA has been removed, so that only the donor's DNA is present in the ensuing embryo, which gestates in the womb of a "surrogate mother" and is born in the normal way.

Dolly the sheep, born in 1997 and named after Dolly Parton, is a famous example of a cloned animal.

Cloning happens in the plant world all the time - every time you take a cutting and grow it into a mature plant you have cloned an identical specimen. Some grape vines today are clones of originals that existed in the Roman times over 2,000 years ago.

Cloning is not the same as genetic engineering (also called genetic modification (GM), or gene splicing). Genetic engineering involves altering the gene pattern of an existing organism, and does not result in the production of a genetically identical "twin". Genetic engineering technology now lies behind the production of human insulin (produced from genetically altered bacteria), herbicide resistant crops, and many other medicine and food related applications.

Click here to view the Draft Risk Assessment Papers on Animal Cloning (FDA).

Click here to read about Dolly the sheep, 1996-2003 (Science Museum, UK)

Written by: Catharine Paddock
Writer: Medical News Today

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