UPI Consumer Health Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Jan 04, 2007
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's preliminary decision to make food from cloned animals safe for human consumption should not alarm consumers, experts say. On Dec. 29 the FDA issued a draft report stating that milk and cheese from the clones of adult cattle, pigs and goats are as safe to eat as conventional animals.
The public has 90 days to comment on the decision, which was peer-reviewed by experts in cloning and animal health. If approved, food from cloned animals will likely not enter the market until 2008. During the review period the FDA has asked farmers to voluntarily not sell cloned meat or milk.
Before the FDA's tentative stamp of approval, a December poll by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology shows many Americans are wary of the practice: 64 percent of those surveyed were uncomfortable with animal cloning versus 22 percent who feel fine about it.
In addition, the Pew poll also suggested Americans have religious and ethical problems with cloning: 76 percent of frequent churchgoers surveyed were uncomfortable with it.
"Presumably, FDA saying this is safe will help to alleviate concerns about safety," Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, told United Press International.
Most of the public's uneasiness about cloning comes from a lack of understanding about the practice, said Sigrid Fry-Revere, director of Bioethics Studies at the Cato Institute in Washington.
For instance, people often confuse cloning with genetic engineering.
An animal clone is a genetic copy of the original animal, similar to identical twins but born at different times, according to the FDA.
Genetic engineering means altering, adding or deleting DNA of an animal or plant. Genetically engineered foods, although widespread, remain controversial, with many doubtful of their safety. Some estimates suggest that upwards of 60 percent of processed foods on U.S. supermarket shelves and 90 percent of soybean crops are genetically altered.
Also, if cloned food products are approved, the goods themselves will come from clone offspring, not the clones themselves -- a key distinction, Fry-Revere said.
Marc Scheineson, a former associate commissioner for the FDA, said consumers should trust the agency.
The FDA is a "protector of public health. We look at available data and make a conclusion that sometimes consumers aren't capable of making," said Scheineson, now the head of the food and drug law practice at Alston and Bird in Washington.
Cloning is another tool in reproductive technology, such as in-vitro fertilization, that U.S. agriculture depends on to produce better, higher-quality food.
While an exciting new technology, cloning is not wildly different from selectively breeding for cattle that gain more weight or give more milk, strategies that have been in place for 100 years, said Scheineson. It's also safer than eating a cow loaded with antibiotics, he said.
Of course, cloning isn't problem-free, said Fry-Revere. Although there are no apparent risks to eating cloned offspring, any kind of reproductive technology could create imperfections. For instance, some cloned animals produce abnormally large babies, a syndrome that does exist in normal reproduction but is more common in clones.
Even so, "it's something to think about, but not worry about for another year," she said.
If approved, cloned food probably will not provide the bulk of the food supply, Fernandez said. He also doesn't expect cloning to reach the deep saturation of genetically engineered crops, for instance.
In addition, the FDA is not required to label cloned food as such. That's because existing laws presume that unless a food product is altered or modified in some way, a label is not necessary. Since cloned food is an exact copy of the original animal, it's not an alteration, said Fry-Revere.
However, she suspects some food companies, particularly in the organic market, would add their own labels, such as "no cloned ingredients," alongside similar declarations of "no hormones" or "no antibiotics."
Industry hasn't done a good job of articulating why U.S. agriculture needs cloning technology in food, leaving some consumers confused of its purpose, said Gregory Jaffe, director of the Project On Biotechnology at the Center For Science In The Public Interest.
But he applauded the FDA for evaluating the safety of cloned foods and allowing a period for public comment.
"The first issue is always safety," Jaffe said.
And for those still queasy about eating relatives of cloned beef or pigs, nutritionist David Grotto pointed out there are plenty of non-cloned -- and vegetarian -- alternatives. Grotto, a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association, also said the FDA ensures the American food supply is one of the safest in the world.
"We have a long-standing track record of being tenacious about checking out the safety of our food," he said.
earlier related report
The weekly said his comments will be a blow to the organic food industry, which is pushing for official recognition of what it says are the nutritional and environmental benefits of not using chemicals on meat and vegetables.
The Soil Association, which promotes and campaigns for organic food and farming, said in July that the British organic market grew by 30 percent in 2005-6 to nearly 1.6 billion pounds (2.4 billion euros, 3.1 billion dollars).
Asked about the benefits claimed for organic food, Miliband was quoted as saying: "It's a lifestyle choice that people can make. There isn't any conclusive evidence either way."
He added: "It's only four percent of total farm produce, not 40 percent, and I would not want to say that 96 percent of our farm produce is inferior because it's not organic."
Source: United Press International
Source: Agence France-Presse
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
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Mass Escape From Fish Farms In Norway Threatens Wild Salmon
Oslo (AFP) Jan 05, 2007
Some 790,000 salmon and trout escaped from Norwegian fish farms last year, up 10 percent on the previous year and a trend that poses a serious threat to wild salmon, the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries said on Friday. The lax security at fish farms is "a criminal act that must be sanctioned the same as a hold-up or a rape," the head of the directorate, Peter Gullestad, told AFP.
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