US to approve cloned meat

Lack of variety is the spice of life

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will declare today that meat from cloned animals is safe to eat.

A safety assessment released on Thursday is expected to approve the entry of products from genetically identical cattle and other livestock into the human food chain.

The FDA indicated which way the wind was blowing back in 2005. Now an article published by its scientists in the journal Theriogenology dated January 1 forms the scientific basis of the approval. Larisa Rudenko and John C Matheson wrote: "[The FDA] concludes that meat and milk from clones and their progeny is as safe to eat as corresponding products derived from animals produced using contemporary agricultural practices".

The pair said no special labelling of cloned meat would be needed, which has outraged some consumer groups. AP reports Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Centre for Food Safety, said: "Consumers are going to be having a product that has potential safety issues and has a whole load of ethical issues tied to it, without any labelling."

Concerns have been raised about the safety of cloned animals since the world's first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, died prematurely with arthritic joints. Complex enviromental factors can have an effect on embryo development, and the impact of the cloning process is not known fully.

The FDA's announcement is expected to have a significant impact worldwide, with many nation's habitually taking the FDA's lead on safety issues. In the EU food products classed as "novel", like cloned animals, have to get case-by-case approval from the European Commission. A green light seems unlikely given the anti-GM crops line the Commission took.

There has been a voluntary moratorium on cloned meat and milk in place for five years Stateside. Industrial scale ranchers have been keen to see the shackles off, as cloning would allow them to reproduce their tastiest, or biggest, or fastest growing individuals ad infinitum.

The announcement is unlikely to have an immediate impact down at WalMart though. Attrition rates for cloning are still far too high for it to be economical to clone meat on an industrial scale.

More likely in the early stages is that cloned bulls would be raised by biotech firms and sold to ranchers for insemination of their herds, for example. The LA Times reports one rancher said he has cloned his prize bull five times and its progeny is already in the food chain. ®

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