Cloned Cows Yummy and Safe
Cloned Cows Yummy and Safe
Cattle-cloning scientists at the University of Connecticut say milk and meat from cloned animals are safe for human consumption.
The has been waiting for additional evidence on the safety of meat and milk from cloned cows since a National Academy of Sciences report said last year that while the food would not likely make anyone sick, more research should be performed. The Connecticut researchers published their results in a scientific journal on Monday.
Companies like ViaGen, a subsidiary of Exeter Life Sciences in Austin, Texas, and Cyagra, which offer livestock-cloning services to ranchers for replicating their most elite sires and dams, have also been waiting for several years for a final say from the FDA.
Cloning cattle can eliminate the genetic gamble that comes with more traditional methods of reproduction, proponents say. Ranchers will choose the animals that produce the best meat and the most milk, as well as those that resist disease and reproduce more efficiently.
"For the United States agricultural industry, (cloning) can reduce the number of cows necessary for milking," said Jerry Yang, an animal science professor at the University of Connecticut and a co-author of the study, which appears in the April 11 online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "They can have a pleasant environment and produce even more milk."
Yang's research found that cloned cattle produced better-quality meat and more milk than those conceived through selective breeding.
He also said that cloning could be a boon for developing countries where cows produce four to six times less meat and milk than those in the United States, where genetic breeding is more advanced.
"If you use cloning technologies to copy the cows in developing countries, you can save them 50 years of breeding," Yang said.
The FDA said last year it was developing a regulatory policy for cloned meat and milk, and in the meantime asked companies not to market food from cloned animals.
A representative from the FDA said the agency had not examined the study yet, and declined to comment on it. She said the agency will consider the paper, along with all other animal-cloning data the FDA has gathered, when it determines its final risk assessment, which she said is in "final clearance" and should be released soon.
ViaGen and other animal-cloning companies for several years have been feeding the FDA health data on their bovine clones.
The 2004 NAS report said methods for testing cloned meat and milk safety were insufficient for determining potential health effects associated with unintended compositional changes in the products. It also said the technologies were not sufficient for determining what parameters, such as DNA or the presence of certain amino acids, were relevant for predicting the impact on human health.
But Yang is confident his study examined relevant endpoints for proving that the products are safe.
The researchers cloned a Japanese Black beef bull. The animal is so prized in Japan that the country does not allow export of the animals or even its cells, so the actual cloning was done in Japan. They also cloned a Holstein dairy cow. They performed both using somatic cell nuclear transfer, the same technique used to clone Dolly the sheep. The researchers compared the meat and milk from the clones to that of animals of similar age, genetics and breed created through natural reproduction.
They studied the protein, fat, white blood cells and other variables routinely assessed by the dairy industry, which revealed no significant differences in the milk.
"We found no difference in the clones versus genetic controls," Yang said.
The researchers also examined more than 100 meat-quality criteria, and found that 90 percent showed no noteworthy variations. About eight variables related to the amount of fat and fatty acids in the meat were significantly higher in the meat from the clones.
Watchdog groups like Consumers Union worry 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.
In its 2004 report, NAS said cloning is very inefficient and leads to many abnormal and stillborn animals. But it's not clear those problems will cause meat from cloned animals to harm people who eat it. And cloning scientists say the success rates are improving. Past estimates say the success rate is between 0.1 percent and 3 percent, depending on the type of animal.