What are attitudes to clone food in the US?

US T-bone steak US authorities have concluded that clone food is as safe as that from conventionally bred animals

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There are concerns that the offspring of cloned animals have entered the food chain in the UK, but how are attitudes different in the US?

The authorities in the US have been investigating the safety of cloned meat and milk since 2001, when it was first floated as an idea for commercial use to improve the quality of herds.

Meat and milk producers were asked to observe a voluntary moratorium until the Food and Drug Administration was able to check the health issues posed by cloned animals.

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To have any products from cloned animals or their offspring is perfectly safe and perfectly legal”

End Quote Karen Batra Biotechnology Industry Organization

The US National Academy of Sciences released a report in 2002 suggesting food from cloned animals was safe.

By 2008, the FDA was able to issue its guidance on the subject.

It concluded: "Meat and milk from clones of cattle, swine, and goats, and the offspring of clones from any species traditionally consumed as food, are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals."

However, even after the guidance that it was safe, the voluntary moratorium on cloned animals stayed in place at the behest of the US Department of Agriculture.

But the moratorium applying to offspring of clones was lifted, meaning they could already be providing milk and meat to US customers.

Americans are unlikely to be eating cloned animals. As it stands cloning an animal is expensive - to eat them would not make commercial sense.

"You would almost never eat a cloned animal," says Karen Batra, director of food and agriculture communications at the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

"It is more about selective breeding technologies for those ranchers that can afford to look at how to better their herds."

And, Ms Batra suggests, cloning technology is so recent that meat from the offspring of clones is unlikely to make up a significant proportion of that eaten in the US any time soon.

"It isn't something that's widespread," she explains.

Hormone given

Market research has been done to see if consumers would accept meat from either clones or the offspring of clones.

A study done by the International Food Information Council - a body funded by the food and agriculture industries - in 2007 asked US respondents if they would be happy to eat meat, milk, and eggs from cloned animals.

Of the respondents, one 10th would be "very likely", 36% would be "somewhat likely", while 28% would be "not too likely" and a quarter "not at all likely". The respondents were slightly more favourable when asked the same question about the offspring of cloned animals.

But there is of course a transatlantic difference in attitudes toward milk and meat.

In the US, the hormone rBST is given to cows to increase milk production. In the EU and a number of other places such hormone treatment is banned.

But even in the US, milk and meat is often labelled as rBST or synthetic hormone free for the benefit of those who have concerns over the health implications.

Labelling call

But the issue of artificial hormones is very different from that of cloning.

The FDA is not requiring labelling for meat from clones or offspring of clones because its position is there is no scientific difference between that and non-cloned meat. It has said it will permit voluntary labelling.

And despite the scientific evidence it cited, there are still plenty of critics over its position on cloned meat.

After the 2008 guidance was released, Senator Barbara Mikulski said: "The FDA has acted recklessly and I am profoundly disappointed in their rush to approve cloned foods.

"Just because something was created in a lab doesn't mean we should have to eat it. If we discover a problem with cloned food after it is in our food supply and it's not labelled, the FDA won't be able to recall it."

The Consumers Union suggested more studies were needed and that labelling should be introduced.

Animal welfare activists certainly have concerns over the use of cloning in farming, but as far as human health goes the official position is clear.

"To have any products from cloned animals or their offspring is perfectly safe and perfectly legal," says Ms Batra.

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