Cloned cattle food safe to eat, say scientists

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Media captionThe BBC's Pallab Ghosh looks at how cloned meat reaches the dinner table

Meat and milk from cloned cattle and their offspring are safe to consume, independent scientists have said.

The Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes said it believed the food was unlikely to present any risk.

The Food Standards Agency will discuss the conclusions in December before providing further advice to ministers.

Questions raised by reports over the summer that meat from cloned animals' offspring was sold to consumers "remain unanswered", the Soil Association says.

However, the committee's scientists said there was no substantial difference between meat and milk from cloned animals and produce from conventional livestock, in line with a number of other scientific assessments.

Three cases had emerged of meat linked to a cloned cow being sold in the UK, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Two involved Highlands farm bulls grown from embryos of a cow cloned in the US, while the third involved meat from a male calf being sent to a London butcher's shop.

Disadvantage claim

The FSA said the calf was the offspring of one of eight animals born in the UK from embryos produced by the US cloned cow.

FSA chief scientist Andrew Wadge said: "The Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes has confirmed that meat and milk from cloned cattle and their offspring shows no substantial difference to conventionally produced meat and milk, and therefore is unlikely to present a food safety risk."

In the US, South America and Asia, farmers can breed from cloned cows, sheep and pigs in order to increase milk and meat production.

However, farmers in Europe who want to introduce the products of cloned animals into the food chain require specific authorisation because they are considered "novel foods".

BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh says this is in effect a ban. Breaches of the Novel Food Regulations can attract a fine of up to £5,000.

Some European farmers believe they are being put at a disadvantage by being denied the option of using the technology, our correspondent adds.

Critics say there are strong ethical and animal welfare reasons to ban its use in European agriculture.

"There are many unanswered questions on the issue of cloning animals - both ethical and practical - and insufficient regulation," said a Soil Association spokeswoman.

"Not only does cloning have a negative impact on animal welfare, we also have no long-term evidence for the impacts on health."

The European Commission proposes to ban meat and milk from clones and their offspring. The FSA board will discuss this at its December meeting, with the outcome influencing Britain's negotiations on the issue in Europe.

A spokesman said the board had asked for clarity from Europe but that any change in position was unlikely to come in the short term.

"It is for individual member states to interpret European law but, obviously, we differ from the commission on this," he said.

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