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Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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FDA's report says food from cloned animals safe

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — A long-awaited final report from the Food and Drug Administration concludes that foods from healthy cloned animals and their offspring are as safe as those from ordinary animals, effectively removing the last U.S. regulatory barrier to the marketing of meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs and goats.

The 968-page "final risk assessment," not yet released but obtained by The Washington Post, finds no evidence to support opponents' concerns that food from clones may harbor hidden risks.

But, recognizing that most consumers are wary of food from clones — and that cloning could undermine the wholesome image of American milk and meat — the agency report includes hundreds of pages of raw data so that others can see how it came to its conclusions.

The central conclusion had been expected, with sources describing the report in a Post story earlier this month.

The report also acknowledges that human health concerns are not the only issues raised by the emergence of cloned farm animals.

"Moral, religious and ethical concerns ... have been raised," the agency notes in a document accompanying the report. But the risk assessment is "strictly a science-based evaluation," it reports, because the agency is not authorized by law to consider those issues.

In practice, it will be years before foods from clones make their way to store shelves in appreciable quantities, in part because the clones are too valuable to slaughter or milk. Instead, the pricey animals — replicas of some of the finest farm animals ever born — will be used primarily as breeding stock to create what proponents say will be a new generation of superior farm animals.

When food from those animals hits the market, the public may yet have its say. FDA officials have said they do not expect to require food from clones to be labeled as such, but they may allow foods from ordinary animals to be labeled as not from clones.

Opponents of the approval, including some concerned about the welfare of the clones, expressed dismay upon learning about the FDA's intentions.

Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, a Washington advocacy group that petitioned FDA to restrict the sale of food from clones, said his group is considering legal action.

"One of the amazing things about this," Mendelson said, "is that at a time when we have a readily acknowledged crisis in our food safety system, the FDA is spending its resources and energy and political capital on releasing a safety assessment for something that no one but a handful of companies wants."

Others countered that public opinion and politics should play no bigger role in the decision on clones than it should in the approval of a drug.

"In fact, cloned animals have been studied much more than naturally produced animals," said Cindy Tian, who has analyzed milk and meat from clones at the University of Connecticut. "We have more data on them than for any other animal that we eat."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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