Friday, December 29, 2006

The Clock is Ticking - Cloned Food Coming Soon to a Supermarket Near You!

You have until April 2, 2007, to tell the FDA what you think about cloned animals entering America's food chain.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday released a preliminary report on the safety of meat and milk from cloned animals. Their verdict: that these food products are no different from those derived from conventionally bred animals, and are therefore safe to eat. But don't expect your local butcher to be selling hams or rib eyes from cloned animals any time soon. The FDA's report is now available to the public and open for a 90-day comment period. Only after this time will the agency make a final decision on the safety of food products made from cloned animals, a process that may take until the end of next year.

Dolly, the first sheep known to have been cloned from an adult somatic cell, and her offspring, Bonnie.

Time magazine has prepared an FAQ:
Are there any food products from cloned animals on the market?

No. In 2001, farmers and breeders voluntarily agreed not to sell any meat or milk from cloned animals to the public. They were willing to wait until the FDA could determine whether these foods were safe for human consumption, and wouldn't pose any health risks to people. This FDA report does not change that moratorium.

How are cloned animals made?

The most common method used is the same procedure that produced Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned. Scientists remove the DNA material from any cell in the animal they wish to clone (usually a skin cell) and place it into an egg that has had its own DNA removed. That egg is electrically and chemically activated to begin dividing, and after a few days in the Petri dish, it is transplanted into the womb of a surrogate until birth.

Why are cloned animals needed in agriculture?

Breeders are constantly looking to produce the highest quality, highest yield animals they can. Just as crop farmers create hybrid strains that can resist drought and disease, animal breeders want to target healthy animals that are good milk or meat producers. Cloning such elite stock is one way to maximize their yield.

Aren't cloned animals more prone to genetic defects and other abnormalities?

It's true that the cloning process itself is still inconsistent and expensive. On average, only about 2% to 5% of clones make it from egg to live birth. However, most of the genetic problems occur early in the cloning process, so that the few embryos that do successfully divide and mature turn out to be relatively normal.

Will eating products from cloned animals pose health risks to people?

Probably not, according to the data the FDA analyzed. That's because even if the FDA eventually gives the go-ahead, meat or milk from the cloned animals themselves will likely not be what is for sale. Instead, breeders will almost certainly use cloned animals as they use prize bulls — they will mate them in the natural way. and it will be the offspring whose food products will end up on supermarket shelves. Based on studies of cloned cattle, pigs and goats born so far, any genetic defects generated by cloning seem to be limited to the clones themselves, and are not passed on when these animals mate naturally.

Will cloned products be labeled so I know that they came from a cloned animal?

The FDA is waiting until the comment period is over before making this decision. But Stephen Sundlof, director of the agency's Center for Veterinary Medicine, says: "If we felt that the food introduced substances that were harmful to people, labeling would be in order. But assuming that the draft risk assessment is not altered in content, which notes that the science shows that the food from these animals is not different materially from the food from other animals, we would not require labeling."

Which animals are being cloned?

For potentially commercial use, breeders are currently cloning cattle, pigs, goat and sheep. The FDA's report, however, only addresses the safety of food from cattle, pigs and goats, since there isn't enough information yet on products from cloned sheep.

Where can I go to post my comments about cloned meat and milk products?

Until April 2, the FDA welcomes public comment at [link] -Docket Number & Title: 2006P-0415 - Petition Seeking Regulation of Cloned Animals.

Not really. The FDA's website is a mare's nest and once you find the report you want to comment on, you're limited to 4000 characters. Time magazine is assisting the FDA in discouraging public comments by giving a link that requires you to have to wade through 15 pages for the Cloned Animal report.

Here is the direct link, and an under-4000 character comment:
The shorter life spans of cloned animals indicates that there is a difference between the clone and the original animal. The effect of the difference on the consumer is, at this point, unknown. By rushing to approve these animals and their byproducts for human consumption (and not requiring labeling), it would seem that the FDA intends to use Americans as guinea pigs, to test their safety on an unwitting and captive public, as it is almost certain that Europeans will be banning the importation of these products into their countries.

The FDA was created to protect the American people and not work for big business. If the FDA goes forward with this plan, cloned meat, their progeny and all byproducts should be clearly labeled so that consumers can make educated purchasing choices.

On Friday 14 February 2003, scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland put Dolly to death. She had been suffering from a progressive lung disease.

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