Page 3 of 3   <      

FDA Is Set To Approve Milk, Meat From Clones

Unless, that is, the opponents manage to stop the process, which they are trying to do on two fronts.

One is the petition filed Thursday by the Washington-based Center for Food Safety. It asks the FDA to regulate clones, not just transgenics, as New Animal Drugs. It also calls for environmental impact statements to evaluate the environmental and health effects of each new proposed line of clones.

"The available science shows that cloning presents serious food safety risks, animal welfare concerns and unresolved ethical issues that require strict oversight," the petition states.

Industry scientists derided the petition's safety concerns, built largely on a theoretical possibility that subtle genetic changes seen in some clones may alter the nutritional nature of meat. If those genetic changes were significant, Mower said, they would cause biochemical changes in milk or meat, none of which have been found.

But issues of ethics and public acceptance are not easily dismissed, several experts said.

Surveys show that more than 60 percent of the U.S. population is uncomfortable with the idea of animal cloning for food and milk. The single biggest reason people give is "religious and ethical," with concerns about food safety coming in second, said Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, a nonpartisan research and education project.

Those sentiments are a big concern to dairy companies, which fear that any association with cloning could harm milk's carefully honed image of wholesomeness.

Confidential documents from the International Dairy Foods Association, obtained by The Washington Post, indicate the group has played a key role in slowing FDA action and propose a strategy for blocking any future FDA approval.

Association spokeswoman Susan Ruland said the group opted not to adopt the lobbying strategy described in those documents, which included using friends in Congress and "continued outreach to the White House."

In any case, Sundlof said, the FDA has no authority to make decisions based on ethics concerns. Nor is it inclined to call for labeling of products from clones, as some have demanded. For one thing, clonal meat or milk would be impossible to authenticate, since there is no way to distinguish them from conventional products.

The FDA may already be too late. Several owners of clones have been selling semen to farm clubs and others vying to grow prize-winning cattle. Most of those animals end up being slaughtered, sold and eaten, experts said.

"That you can go online today to any number of different Web sites and purchase semen from cloned bulls tells you there are cloned sires out there fathering calves in the food supply," Walton said.

Like it or not, Walton and others said, the clones are out of the barn.

<          3

© 2006 The Washington Post Company