The E.F.S.A. issues draft opinion on animal cloning

by Bryan Salvage
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PARMA, ITALY ― The idea of offering for public consumption the meat and milk from cloned animals has resulted in the creation of two distinct camps in scientific and food-safety circles: those who are for it and those who are against it. As a result, much confusion and concern exist amongst consumers around the world as both camps press their points of view.

To help address the confusion, the European Food Safety Authority (E.F.S.A.) has requested comments from interested parties on its draft scientific opinion on the implications of animal cloning on food safety, animal health and welfare, and the environment. The work follows a request from the European Commission in early 2007 to the E.F.S.A. for advice on the issue. The E.F.S.A.’s opinion will help inform consideration of any future E.U. measures in relation to animal clones and products obtained from these animals.

Some of the key conclusions of the E.F.S.A.’s draft opinion included:

• Although death and disease rates of clones are significantly higher than those observed in conventionally reproduced animals, healthy clones and their offspring indicate that somatic cell nucleus transfer (S.C.N.T.) may be successfully used as a reproductive technique in cattle and pigs. Based on a number of parameters, including physiological and clinical, healthy clones and healthy offspring do not show any significant differences from their conventional counterparts.

• The health and welfare of a significant proportion of clones have been found to be adversely affected. The proportion of unhealthy clones is likely to decrease as technology improves.

• Food products obtained from healthy cattle and pig clones and their offspring, i.e., meat and milk, are within the normal range with respect to the composition and nutritional value of similar products obtained from conventionally bred animals. In view of these findings, and assuming unhealthy clones are removed from entering the food chain as is the case with conventionally bred animals, it is unlikely any difference exists in terms of food safety between food products originating from clones and their progeny compared with those derived from conventionally bred animals.

• No environmental impact is foreseen by the E.F.S.A. as a result of animal cloning, but only limited data is available.

This draft opinion acknowledges that S.C.N.T. is a relatively new technology and the available data for risk assessment are limited. Most studies have been of small sample size and the currently available data only allow for an assessment of cattle and pig clones and their progeny. In addition, as S.C.N.T. is a developing technology, information on animals reared and remaining alive for considerable periods of time is limited. The current welfare assessment is largely based on interpretation of limited data.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) is expected to declare soon that meat and milk from cloned animals are safe to eat. In the meantime, American food companies have agreed not to sell those products under a voluntary moratorium until the F.D.A. final approval is announced, even though the agency revealed more than a year ago that cloned animals are scientifically identical to their natural counterparts.

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