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Spotlight again on cloned animals

By Jane Byrne , 12-Mar-2009

A review of cloning is underway at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) following a request from the European Commission for further advice on the implications of the technology for food safety, animal health and welfare and the environment.

EFSA has initiated a public consultation period to collate data to support the review, and the agency said that it aims to build on its July 2008 recommendations regarding clones.

The Commission has asked EFSA to further investigate the causes of disease and mortality in clones during the gestation period and at early stages of life, and also requested that the agency consider the extent to which current knowledge on the cloning of cattle and pigs can be applied to sheep, goats and chicken.

According to the agency, the call for data is aimed at all parties holding relevant information which has become available since January 2008, such as new publications or scientific information not yet published.

EFSA said its Scientific Committee will deliver its advice by June 2009.

Earlier opinion

Last July, the agency said that meat and dairy products from cloned pigs and cattle are probably safe for human consumption.

The risk assessor said that it looked into existing data on the safety of cloned pigs and cattle; however, it warned that the data available was 'limited'.

Professor John Collins, chair of EFSA's Biohaz Panel, one of ten scientific panels that make up the EFSA’s Scientific Committee, said the premise that healthy meat comes from healthy animals informed the work of the Committee.

He said that based on the knowledge available there was no evidence to indicate that cloned meat and dairy goods were any different from conventional products.

However, Collins added that the panel strongly recommended that the health and welfare of clones be monitored throughout both their production and natural life span to allow for revision of the EFSA opinion in the light of any future developments or new data.

International perspective

In January, an advisory committee for Japan's food safety regulator said that food made from cloned animals is safe to eat.

And cloned animals and their offspring received a positive response on their safety from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in January 2008, with the regulator approving the sale of food from such animals.

However, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) was more cautious saying food from cloned animals should not be sold until further consultations took place.

Industry view

Philip Hambling, Food Policy Manager with the British Meat Processing Association (BMPA), told FoodProductionDaily.com previously that it was too early to determine exactly what the benefits of animal cloning technology for the meat industry were.

He said that as the meat sector was consumer driven and with the general public so far displaying strong resistance to such products, more debate around the ethical and social implications of cloning is required.

Consumer resistance to food from clones is bound to pose a problem, given the level of high concern surrounding attempts to introduce genetically-modified foods in Europe.

And a survey last year by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) showed that consumers there struggled to find any tangible consumer benefits from cloned animals being introduced into the food chain.

The FSA said the respondents expressed concern that the main motive would be "financial, for biotech companies, livestock breeders, farmers or food retailers."

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