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Cloned Animal Products May Not Be Safe

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A Food and Drug Administration report saying cloned animal milk and meat are safe is not conclusive, half of the 10-member Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee said Tuesday.

The committee met at an FDA public hearing to discuss the report, released last Friday, which stated that such products were safe to consume.

Committee members said that they needed more information to decide whether consuming cloned animal products was safe.

The hearing also gave consumer groups a chance to comment on the FDA report.

The risk assessment (report) is characterized by a lack of hard data all the way through the presentation,'' said Carol Tucker Foreman, director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America in an interview.The information on milk is only based on one study.''

The agency's 11-page draft report found that milk and meat from cloned animals was safe to consume based on initial research. Because cloning is a new technology, researchers had to rely on limited data from biotechnology companies.

``It's unlikely that any company would give them data that cloning isn't safe,'' said Foreman.

Dolly, a sheep, became the first mammal cloned from an adult cell in 1996. Only a few hundred cloned cattle exist in the United States, out of around 100 million.

Even though researchers pleaded for more companies to release their data on cloned animals, they say that available information establishes that cloned animal food products aren't harmful.

The report compared cloned cows, sheep, pigs and goats to current FDA standards for their conventional animal counterparts. Problems with cloned animals mostly occur during pregnancy or birth. But animals with visible health problems such as deformities weren't studied because they wouldn't enter the food supply, as with all animals. The ones that outlast early problems are likely to be healthy.

``Food derived from animal clones is likely to be as safe as food we eat every day,'' said Dr. Larisa Rudenko, senior adviser for risk analysis at the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. Even though they studied a small group of animals, about 200, the consistency of the information shows that these products are safe, she said. The research group performed medical tests on the animals, mostly cattle, but did not study the meat itself.

And because cloned animals cost about $20,000 and are valuable for research, they won't reach supermarket shelves, said Rudenko. But their milk and offspring might one day.

However, consumers still worry about the safety of scientifically tampering with food. Fifty-five percent of Americans would avoid buying genetically modified food if it were labeled, according to a July ABC News survey. Consumers are willing to pay up to $1.50 more for milk labeled free of artificial growth hormones and $3 more for organic milk, according to a study by the Food Research Group.

``We just want to make sure that this has been thoroughly studied so that consumers can be sure that these products are 100 percent safe and wholesome,'' said Susan Ruland, a spokesperson for the International Dairy Foods Association.

In June 2001, the FDA asked that milk and meat from cloned animals be kept off grocery store shelves so it could further study the risks. The report marks the FDA's first stamp of approval for those products. The agency plans to release a full report in spring.

Still, Foreman worries that the research on cloned animal products has not been well thought out.

No one has suggested that there is any great public benefit from cloning animals,'' she said.We are being pushed into this so one Texas cowboy can boast his longhorn steer is bigger down the road.''


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c.2003 Cox News Service

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