Food producers have voluntarily withheld cloned animals from the market pending the FDA's decision, which is basically an advisory opinion. It wasn't immediately clear Tuesday if that moratorium would end immediately -- or if other federal agencies must weigh in first, the AP reported.
The FDA said cloned animals would primarily be used for breeding because of the expense involved in creating a clone -- estimated at $13,500 for one cow. Agency officials said it would probably take several years for offspring of clones to enter the marketplace.
Even then, it's not clear how many producers -- or consumers -- would embrace the idea.
A 2006 survey by the Center for Food, Nutrition and Agriculture Policy at the University of Maryland found that one-third of adults said they wouldn't consume milk or meat from cloned animals, even if the FDA determined it was safe.
In its statement, the FDA explained that an animal clone is a genetic copy of a donor animal, similar to an identical twin, but born at a different time. Cloning is not the same as genetic engineering, which involves altering, adding or deleting DNA. Because of the cost factors involved with cloning, such animals are intended for use as elite breeding animals to introduce desirable traits into herds more rapidly than would be possible using conventional breeding, the statement said.
Food & Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group, said the FDA's "decision to allow the sale of meat and milk from cloned animals leaves consumers at risk and releases another questionable technology into the food supply."
"While more complete research is needed on this technology, there is still an underlying objection from consumers based on ethical and animal welfare concerns," Wenonah Hauter, the group's executive director, said in a prepared statement. "More than 150,000 people submitted comments to FDA earlier this year opposing animal food cloning. But despite widespread public disapproval, FDA is not planning to require labeling of products from cloned animals, keeping already wary consumers in the dark."
Last week, the European Union's Food Safety Authority issued a report concluding that meat and milk from cloned animals is probably safe. But there is "only limited data available" on the whole issue of cloning animals, so further consultation with scientists was urged by the safety agency, the AP reported.
"Based on current knowledge, there is no expectation that clones or their progeny would introduce any new food safety risks compared with conventionally bred animals," the wire service quoted the European Union preliminary report as saying.
For more on the cloning decision, visit the FDA.
SOURCES: Jan. 15, 2008, statement, American Meat Institute, Washington, D.C.; Jan. 15, 2008, teleconference with Stephen Sundlof, D.V.M., Ph.D., director, Center of Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Bruce I. Knight, U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs; Jan. 15, 2008, news release, Food & Water Watch, Washington, D.C.