Jan. 16, 2008 — -- It could be years before meat from cloned animals hits store shelves now that the Food and Drug Administration has given producers permission to sell it, but the milk from cloned offspring could hit the markets sooner.
"The milk and meat for cattle, swine and goat clones are as safe to eat as the food we eat every day," said Randall Lutter of the FDA.
Currently, only a few hundred clones exist, and they'll likely be used for just breeding.
Some genetically modified food already is available in American groceries. In fact, the food industry says that if a product has corn or soybean in it, it probably has been genetically modified.
"We would not be using those ingredients unless the authorities had evaluated them and determined them to be, to be safe," said Mark Nelson of the Grocery Manufacturers' Association.
Other countries have moved more slowly and been more cautious in giving the green light to cloned food. In Europe, where a more activist consumer culture exists, recent reports said it "is very unlikely" there's any difference in the safety of cloned or genetically modified products and natural products.
But Europe remains divided about food that contains genetically modified plants and grains, while in the United States genetically modified food is so common most people don't even realize they're eating it.
In the United States, determining which foods have been genetically modified can be difficult because they don't have to be labeled as such. The FDA also doesn't plan to require the labels for cloned animal products.
Critics worry the cloned and genetically modified foods still may be unsafe for consumption.
"It is really a huge, uncontrolled experiment on the American people," said Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety.
They also worry about secondary health effects of eating cloned meat, such as a circumstance in which clones develop health problems later on and need more antibiotics and drugs.
"We think there are consequent effects the FDA has not yet looked at that could impact human health," said Joseph Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety.
What the FDA may do in the future is allow producers of regular meats and milks to put a label on their products saying they are not from cloned animals.
Meanwhile, the government has asked food producers to honor a voluntary moratorium on selling cloned meat animal products while marketing plans are worked out.
Shoppers who want to avoid genetically modified food should search for labels that say "100 percent organic," because by law those cannot contain biotech ingredients.