An influential consumer group has urged the public to complain against plans by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow meat and dairy products from cloned animals to enter supply chain.
Cloning may provide processors with a better quality of meat and products -- such as animals with increased disease resistance -- but the Centre for Food Safety claims that the technology, if adopted, will result in a losing situation for both consumers and manufacturers.
The regulator has opened a 90-day consultation period to gather feedback before deciding whether its proposals -- including allowing cloned food to be sold with no special labeling -- should become policy.
The CFS is calling on the public to oppose the move. The call follows an FDA draft report published last week that claimed food from cloned animals and their offspring was as safe for human consumption as conventional food.
CFS told FoodProductionDaily-USA.com that it too would complain against the proposals on the grounds that the FDA was taking a narrow view and ignoring public and industry concerns.
"Instead of doing its job, the Bush FDA has ignored the science and fast-tracked this decision for the benefit of a few cloning companies," said Joseph Mendelson, a CFS spokesperson.
"This administration is on both sides of the fence. It is against cloning in humans, but when it comes to animals, they approve it. They seem to want to be able to roll out the model T-Ford of cattle. The public should fight it."
The FDA said its assessment of the available scientific evidence shows no additional safety risks are posed by the technology.
"Cloning poses no unique risks to animal health when compared to other assisted reproductive technologies currently in use in US agriculture,"said Stephen F. Sundlof, director of FDA's centre for veterinary medicine.
The risk assessment section, however, stated that limited data on cloned sheep, results in the draft guidance recommending cloned sheep are not to be used for human food.
There is currently no regulation preventing cloned food from entering the supply chain.
However, this lack is offset by high cost of using the technology and the FDA's continued request that producers and breeders to voluntarily refrain from introducing cloned products onto the market until feedback is received from the public.
According to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) about 150 clones exist from a total of over nine million dairy cows. These are mainly used as "show" animals.
While the food industry is interested in the potential benefits cloning may deliver, they remain skeptical as to the wider implications of embracing the technology.
In a statement issued to the press, the IDFA said that while it was reassured by the FDA's draft review findings. The association supports the moratorium on milk and meat from cloned animals entering the food supply.
It said however that it is important to conduct a thorough deliberative dialogue where people can openly discuss any concerns is conducted.
There currently is no consumer benefit in milk from cloned cows. It remains to be seen whether dairy farmers will choose to use it.
"Consumers have expressed concerns about buying food from cloned animals. Once FDA has finalized its review, it will be up to individual companies to decide on the marketing of products made from milk from cloned cows," said Susan Ruland, IDFA's vice president of communications.
"We look forward to reviewing the draft risk assessment and commenting as necessary to FDA."
The American Meat Institute Foundation echoed the IDFA's view on the subject.
"We agree with the report's conclusion that the meat and milk from cloned animals are the same as those from conventional animals," the association stated. "In our view, cloning is part of the evolution of breeding practices and technology that has significant potential to improve the quality of food products derived from animals."
However, the association warned against making a decision in favor of cloning until the public was fully aware of what the technology actually is and were ready to accept it.
"As confident as we are in the science of cloning, we also recognize that consumers may have concerns with the notion of consuming meat and milk from cloned animals. We value our customers' confidence and we take their concerns seriously," the association said.
"We believe that FDA should be cautious about allowing meat and milk from cloned animals to be introduced into the marketplace if most consumers are unwilling to accept the technology," the association stated. "We urge the government not simply to affirm its safety in the policy arena, but to assist consumers in understanding what cloning is, and what it is not, so that overall consumer confidence in the food supply is maintained."
In a statement on 26 December, the CFS said the move to market cloned milk and meat was against dairy and food industry concerns and recent consumer opinion polls showing that most Americans did not want the experimental foods.
A November 2006 poll conducted by the Food Information Council found that 58 per cent of Americans surveyed would be unlikely to buy meat or milk from cloned animals, even if supported by FDA safety endorsements. In the same poll, only 16 per cent of Americans had a favorable opinion of cloning.
In October 2006, CFS, joined by coalition of consumer, environmental and animal welfare organizations, who filed a legal petition with the FDA seeking a moratorium on foods produced from cloned animals.
The group also called for the establishment of mandatory rules for the pre-market and environmental review of cloned foods.
The petition also requested that the Department of Health and Human Services establish a federal review committee to advice FDA on the ethical issues, of which regulator has no authority to consider at this time.
"We intend to pursue our legal action to compel FDA to address the many unanswered questions around cloned food," said the CFS.