Tuesday, April 12, 2005
A National Academy of Sciences report (.pdf) last year said that while the milk and meat from cloned animals would not likely make anyone sick, more research should be performed. Now, a new US-Japan study published in the April 11 online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that milk and meat from cloned cattle does indeed appear to meet industry standards and appears to be safe for human consumption.
As BBC News reports, the scientists, led by Professor Jerry Yang from the University of Connecticut, compared the produce from two beef and four dairy clones, all derived from a single Holstein dairy cow and a single Japanese black bull, with the produce from normal animals of similar age and breed.
The meat was analysed against more than 100 physiological, tissue and cellular components, while the milk was analysed for protein, fat and other variables. No significant differences between the produce of cloned and normal cattle were found. Higher levels of fat and fatty acids were found in the cloned cow meat, but they still fell within beef industry standards.
While the study showed the cloned produce to be within the range approved for human consumption, the scientists stressed that the research was still in its early stages. Their findings, they said, provide “guidelines” for further research with larger numbers of clones from different genetic backgrounds.
Cloning livestock may one day increase yields by copying those animals that are especially productive and especially resistant to disease.
“The milking production levels in the US are three to four times higher than levels in China; maybe even five times or more compared to cows in India and some other countries,” Professor Jerry Yang told BBC News. “Therefore cloning could offer technology for duplicating superior farm animals. However, all the products from these cloned animals must be safe for human consumption. …and it is a major issue for scientists to provide a scientific basis for the data and information to address this question.”
As USA Today reports, there is currently no law governing the sale of meat or milk from the estimated 1,000 to 2,000 cloned farm animals in the USA. But since 2003, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has asked producers to voluntarily keep the meat and milk of these animals, and that of their offspring, out of the food supply.
Wired News reports that companies like ViaGen and Cyagra, which offer livestock-cloning services, have also been waiting for several years for a final say from the FDA.
“For the United States agricultural industry, (cloning) can reduce the number of cows necessary for milking,” said Jerry Yang “They can have a pleasant environment and produce even more milk.” He also said that cloning cattle from the United States, where genetic breeding is more advanced, could save developing countries 50 years of breeding.
The idea of cloning animals for human consumption is not without its critics. First, there are the welfare concerns, as most cloned animals do not make it to term before being born, and many of those that do are born deformed or prone to illness. The Humane Society of the United States has asked for a ban on milk and meat from clones for just this reason. Second, there is still the concern that healthy clones may have subtle defects that could make their food products unsafe to eat.
As the Washington Post reports, some critics are asking why it is necessary to clone cows that produce huge amounts of milk when surpluses, rather than shortages, are the main problem facing the U.S. dairy industry today.