Saturday, July 26, 2008

Products from clones "on the verge of widespread commercial use"

It really does sound like science fiction doesn't it? Who would have imagined that we'd actually be having discussions/debates about the ethical, environmental and public health implications of allowing food from cloned animals into the marketplace. Well obviously lots of folks. And according to the following story, the discussions are nearing and end and cloned beef and chicken could be on supermarket shelves around the world as early as 2010!

You can bet that the impacts of global climate change on food production will, at some point, be used in defense of supporting cloning. It's already been done in attempts to rationalize the use of bovine somatotropin to increase milk production in cows.

"Brave new world" doesn't come close to describing what's going on. (GW)

EU experts say 'yes, but' to animal cloning for food

July 25, 2008

While the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has found no clear safety concerns related to food products from clones of cattle, pigs or their offspring, it strongly underlines that no way near enough scientific data on the subject exists as yet and that the practice has major repercussions on animal health and welfare.


Cloning is not a commercial practice in Europe and products from clones are not known to have entered the European food chain as yet. However, according to the Commission, products from clones are "on the verge of widespread commercial use" and are "expected to spread within the global food chain before 2010".

This is why the Commission asked the EU's Food Safety Authority (EFSA ) for a scientific opinion on the implications of animal cloning on food safety, animal welfare and the environment. In parallel, the EU executive also asked the European Group on Ethics for Science and New Technologies (EGE ) to give an opinion on the ethics of cloning.

These requests for opinions also came shortly after the United States Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) draft risk assessment stated, in December 2006, that meat and milk products from cloned cattle, pigs and goats were safe for consumption.

The EGE group concluded that no argument exists to ethically justify the production of food from clones and their offspring.

The EFSA's draft opinion , published in January 2008, stated that "it is very unlikely that any difference exists in terms of food safety between food products from clones and their progeny compared with conventionally-bred animals".

EFSA's final scientific opinion on the implications of animal cloning on food safety, animal health and welfare and the environment, adopted on 15 July, concludes that "for cattle and pigs, food safety concerns are considered unlikely," but acknowledges that the scientific committee's work was challenging due to the lack of data on the subject.

The opinion only concerns risk assessments on clones of cattle and pigs and their offspring, as assessment for other animals is not possible based on current knowledge, according to the committee.

"The committee wants to strongly highlight the issue of uncertainties characterising this risk assessment," said Vittorio Silano, the chair of the EFSA Scientific Committee, when presenting the opinion on 24 July. These uncertainties arise from the limited number of studies available, the small sample sizes investigated and the absence of a uniform data approach to allow consideration of all relevant issues, he added.

Therefore, Silano said, the opinion should be updated and reconsidered in the light of new data and developments in cloning.

The opinion puts a lot of emphasis on animal health and welfare. The committee notes that "significant animal health and welfare issues" exist for cloned animals compared to conventionally bread ones.

Interestingly, an EU Directive on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes states that "natural or artificial breeding or breeding procedures which cause or are likely to cause suffering or injury to any of the animals concerned must not be practiced".

"The reality is that everyone involved understands that healthy food comes from healthy animals," said John Collins, a member of EFSA's scientific committee, commenting on the opinion.

The committee recommends, among other issues, further investigation into the "susceptibility of clones and their offspring to diseases and transmissible agents when reared and kept under conventional husbandry conditions".

As for the environmental impact, the committee said none is foreseen, underlining that there is not enough data available on this aspect either. Regarding biodiversity, the opinion notes that "cloning does not appear to have a direct effect on genetic diversity in that no new genetic modifications are introduced, but there could be an indirect effect due to overuse of a limited number of animals in breeding programmes".

Asked how much consideration the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave to animal health and welfare before giving a positive opinion on the market authorisation of food products from clone offspring in early 2008, Silano said the FDA was not really looking into animal welfare aspects as that is not part of its mandate.

He also added that the EU and US regulatory systems are quite different regarding the animal welfare aspects of the food sector and acknowledged that this could lead to differences in their approach to hazard management.


The EFSA opinion complements, to some extent, the opinion of the European Group on Ethics for Science and New Technologies ( EGE ) on the issue. Earlier this year, EGE argued that "considering the current level of suffering and health problems" of animal clones, there is no ethically justified reason for cloning animals for food supply.

The Eurogroup for Animals hopes that the EFSA opinion - examined in the light of the EU Directive on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes - will lead the Commission to ban both cloning as well as the trade and import of products from cloned animals and their offspring.

"Cloning is an incredibly wasteful process with only about five animals out of a 100 being born alive. The ones who do live die earlier and suffer from more defects than normal animals," it stated.

"The EU is now obliged to follow its own rules. Under the general Farm Directive, a breeding technique that causes suffering should not be allowed. The treaty protocol on animal welfare says full regard should be paid to the welfare of animals," noted the director of the Eurogroup for Animals, Sonja Van Tichelen. Accordingly, the EU has the legal obligation to ban animal cloning for food, she added.

The United States Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Final Risk Assessment , published on 15 January 2008, concluded that "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," but did not reach any conclusion on the safety of food from clones of other animal species, such as sheep, due to insufficient information.

After the FDA's final assessment, the US Department of Agriculture still asked American farmers to voluntarily keep their cloned animals off the market. Its stance is backed by the federation of the nation's dairy manufacturing and marketing industries and their suppliers, who argue that it would be prudent to wait until all major foreign trading partners have reviewed and approved the same cloning technology in their respective countries and consumers have become comfortable with the idea of buying milk from cloned cows.


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