Cloned foods approach shelves, opposition increases

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Risk assessment Cloning

Foods from cloned animals could enter the US food supply by the end
of the year, despite calls for further review of the long-term
risks of such products.

The outcome currently lies with Congress and its decision to review an amendment to the 2007 Farm Bill. Amendment 3524, introduced by Senators Mikulski and Specter, calls for more information on food products from cloned animals, with specific focus on elements that have not been addressed by the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) initial risk assessment. FDA in December issued draft guidance on allowing meat and milk from cloned cows into the food chain. According to its assessment of the available scientific evidence, the agency said there are no additional safety risks posed by the technology when compared to other assisted reproductive technologies currently in use in US agriculture. The regulator collected a multitude of comments during a 120-day comment period that closed in May this year. It said it planned to review these and would likely make a decision on food from cloned animals by December. However, FDA today told that it is in the process of updating its cloning risk assessment (RA) and reviewing the public comments. "There is no estimated timeframe on when this will be finished,"​ it said. Opposition to the approval of clone foods has been raised by scientists, health groups, consumer advocacies and even industry, sparking a fierce debate that shows no signs of abating. At the forefront of this is the Center for Food Safety (CFS), a non-profit science-based public interest group, which earlier this year released a review of the FDA's risk assessment. The report said that the assessment was based on "flawed assumptions and misrepresented findings",​ and claimed that FDA found virtually no scientific evidence to support the commercial release of these experimental foods. "Animal cloning is a new technology with potentially severe risks for food safety. Defects in clones are common, and cloning scientists warn that even small imbalances in clones could lead to hidden food safety problems in clones' milk or meat. There are few studies on the risks of food from clones, and no long-term food safety studies have been done,"​ the group states on its website. In response to such concerns, the proposed amendment to the Farm Bill calls for studies that would evaluate the health effects of allowing the commercialization of milk and meat from cloned animals. It also asks for an evaluation of the costs of this action, and its impact on overseas markets, which may ban exports from the United States. In addition, it seeks an evaluation of the effectiveness of programs already in place at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to monitor food products from cloned animals. A major aspect of FDA's plan that has invited significant opposition is that the labeling of meat and milk products from cloned animals would not be required. Consumer concerns at this level are reflected in a number of state bills that have been recently introduced calling for labeling of cloned food products. On the other side of the coin, over 200 scientists have signed a public statement in support of FDA's draft risk assessment. The sign-on letter was distributed by the Federation of Animal Science Societies (FASS). The statement has been signed by some of the leading global scientists in the field, including Dr Terry Etherton, who was on the National Academy of Sciences panel that evaluated the safety of food from cloned animals and their offspring, and Dr Ian Wilmut, one of the 'fathers' of Dolly the Sheep. FASS also targeted skeptic consumers through an advertisement in the Wednesday, May 2 Washington Post, which claimed that "the scientific evidence is absolutely, robustly clear. There is no food safety risk from the meat or milk from clones, or from their conventionally bred offspring." ​To read the Mikulski-Specter amendment to the 2007 Farm Bill, click here​.

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