European food watchdog approves cloned animal food products
Europe's official food watchdog has concluded that bacon, beef and milk produced from cloned animals appeared to pose no safety risk to consumers and are suitable for consumption. The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) provides independent scientific advice on all matters concerning food safety. Its work covers the whole food production process 'from farm to fork'. The EFSA issued its draft opinion, concluding that cloned pigs and cows and their products were as healthy and nutritious as those bred normally.
The scientific opinion was requested by the European Commission in 2007. It will be complemented by an opinion from the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies. EFSA's opinion is now open to public consultation.
Death and disease rates among clones are higher than those among conventionally reproduced animals, but this is expected to decrease as the technology improves. As long as unhealthy clones are prevented from entering the food chain, as would be the case for normal animals, the healthy clones can be consumed, EFSA concludes. 'It is very unlikely that any difference exists in terms of food safety between food products originating from clones and their progeny compared with those derived from conventionally bred animals,' states the opinion. It says meat and milk from healthy cloned cattle and pigs are within the same nutritional range as normally bred animals.
In order to evaluate the safety of milk and meat from cloned animals, EFSA looked at the following: compositional and nutritional data, probability of novel constituents being present, health status of the animal, available data on toxicity and allergenicity and microbiological aspects.
Benefits of the technology
The Authority notes, however, that the technology involved in somatic cell nucleus transfer (SCNT) is relatively new, and that the data available for risk assessment are limited. Most of their studies therefore had to be small in size. While the Authority found that the health and welfare of a significant proportion of clones was adversely affected, the opinion notes that the proportion of unhealthy clones is likely to decrease as the technology improves.
In SCNT, the nucleus of a differentiated somatic cell (a non-germ-line cell) is transferred by cell fusion or direct injection into an oocyte (an immature ovum involved in reproduction) that has had its nucleus removed. The reconstructed embryo is artificially activated to start its development and is implanted into a female - the surrogate mother. There it develops until it is delivered.
Cloning is attractive for scientists because it enables them to introduce proven desirable characteristics, such as disease resistance, and allows the propagation of animals regardless of their fertility.
Source: European Food Safety Authority
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