The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could announce the release of meat and milk from cloned animals and their offspring from a voluntary marketing moratorium as early as next week. Some consumer activist groups are wary of the pending approval, but the FDA says its decision is based on years of scientific research and study.
The decision would be a notable act of defiance against Congress, which last month passed appropriations legislation recommending that any such approval be delayed pending further studies. Moreover, the Senate version of the Farm bill, yet to be reconciled with the House version, contains stronger, binding language that would block FDA action on cloned food, probably for years.
New Zealand and Australia have released reports concluding that meat and milk from clones are safe. Canada and Argentina are reportedly close to doing the same. And although European consumers are generally uncomfortable with agricultural biotechnology, the European Union’s food safety agency is expected to endorse the safety of meat and milk from clones in a draft statement that could be released within the next week.
“The science seems to be leading them and us to the same conclusion,” said a U.S. trade official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because U.S. policy is technically still under review.
The FDA has hinted strongly in the past year that it is ready to lift its “voluntary moratorium” on the marketing of milk and meat from clones and their offspring, saying that the science led them to that decision. Multiple studies compiled by the agency have shown that the chemical composition of those products is virtually identical to that of milk and meat from conventionally bred animals. And studies in which rodents were fed food from clones have found no evidence of health effects.
“Thousands of data points, hundreds of peer-reviewed journal articles and two reviews by the National Academies have all said the same thing,” said Mark Walton, president of ViaGen, an Austin-based cattle cloning company that provided many of the animals that independent researchers studied for the FDA. “There is nothing left to review.” Walton emphasized that for now, because clones are so expensive to make, they will be used almost entirely as breeding stock to produce conventional offspring for market. Scientists largely agree that although some clones harbor genetic peculiarities of uncertain relevance, their sexually produced offspring are healthy and normal.