Clone Steak Safe, Unless It Isn’t

Milk and meat from cloned animals probably is safe for human consumption, but there are still a lot of unknowns, according to a new report.

A National Academy of Sciences report released Wednesday said there’s no evidence that milk or meat from cloned animals will make anyone sick. But it also said researchers need better testing methods and more data.

While the NAS report does say there’s no evidence that food from cloned animals is dangerous, it also says the industry needs better methods for determining how cloned animals might affect human health.

“Profiling methods and their interpretation are not sufficiently developed to allow direct assessment of potential health effects associated with most unintended compositional changes,” says the report, which is a sub-report of a larger document on genetically engineered crops.

The technologies available are also not sufficient for determining what parameters, such as DNA or the presence of certain amino acids, are relevant for predicting the impact on human health, the report said.

Researchers don’t know when cloned animals are healthy, let alone safe to eat, said Michael Hansen, a senior research associate at the Consumers Union. At the Nov. 4 FDA meeting, animal-cloning researchers said that of 108 cloned cows studied, eight had died. But the data they had collected on the animals’ health didn’t show any differences between the cattle that died and those that lived. Hansen suggested that means the information that breeders are collecting is inadequate for determining the health of the animals.

Studies do show differences between cloned and regular animals, including a higher incidence of genetic and physiological abnormalities in clones. But scientists say the differences arise mainly during the development of the embryo and are negligible by the time the cow is ready for slaughter or milking.

Watchdog groups fear that the FDA’s animal-cloning regulations will mimic the agency’s genetically modified crops protocol, which is voluntary. Biotech companies such as Monsanto typically summarize information about their genetically modified corn or wheat for the FDA, but are not required to do so by law. The FDA does not provide its own independent review.

The NAS didn’t provide numbers, but said cloning is very inefficient and leads to many abnormal and stillborn animals. ViaGen’s Davis said the success rates are improving, but declined to give numbers. Cloning experts say the success rate is between 1 percent and 3 percent, depending on the type of animal.

Hansen suspects people will be less likely to accept such a relaxed protocol for genetically modified animals, for health-related and ethical reasons.

“People have less of an emotional connection to plants than animals,” he said.

Source: Wired News