Q: What is "animal cloning?"
A: Animal cloning is a modern breeding method, which allows farmers to retain desirable traits in animals—such as quantity and quality of meat or milk or disease resistance—by producing an identical twin of the animal. This breeding technique does not change the genetic makeup of the animal nor does it involve the addition of any new traits to the animal. It is simply assisted reproduction.
Q: What types of animals are currently under research and/or development for food production through cloning?
A: Farmers have used cloning as a breeding technique for dairy and beef cattle and pigs intended for producing food. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have requested that agricultural producers voluntarily withhold food products derived from cloned animals and their offspring to facilitate transition into the marketplace. This technique has not currently been applied to poultry.
Q: Are there food products from cloned animals on supermarket shelves?
A: Although dairy and beef cattle have been produced through cloning, FDA and USDA have requested that agricultural producers voluntarily withhold food products from cloned animals to facilitate transition into the marketplace. In January 2008, the Center for Veterinary Medicine at FDA published “Animal Cloning: A Risk Assessment” their final, comprehensive document on animal cloning and safety, along with a Risk Management Plan and Guidance for Industry (http://www.fda.gov/cvm/cloning.htm). This document, which states that foods derived from cloned animals are safe for human consumption, was open to public comment through June 2007 and has now incorporated those comments in the final draft. Now that the risk assessment has been approved by FDA, the industry has indicated it could take 3-5 years for meat and milk from cloned animals to be available. These animals must also pass inspection by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service before they can enter the food supply. This product availability timeline is a result of the natural breeding cycles of animals.
Q: Will these food products be safe for my family to eat?
A: FDA requires that all foods sold to consumers are safe. FDA analyzed more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific studies on animal cloning which include years of safety data involving multiple generations of livestock, before drafting their risk assessment statement, which determined these food products as safe to eat. They also took into account public comments that were received on the draft assessment. In addition, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published reviews in 2002 and 2004 and determined that there was no evidence of safety concerns for foods derived from cloned animals.
Q: Will the milk or meat from cloned animals taste different?
A: Cloning will be used for breeding purposes only. Consumers will eat food from animals that are the offspring of clones, often called progeny. As for taste, because a clone is a genetic copy, changes in the flavor of the foods are not anticipated. Cloning does allow breeders to select animals with the most desirable characteristics, and therefore, allows producers to target the most desirable traits including the ones that determine the preferred taste or texture of meat.
Q: What are the potential benefits of producing animals through cloning?
A: Because breeding the best possible livestock over time through cloning allows for the selection of traits, as traditional breeding has done at a slower pace over the years, selecting for traits such as disease-resistance in the animal population will be possible. Cloning allows farmers and ranchers to reproduce the most productive, healthiest animals. It’s a simple matter of quality control.
Q: Who regulates these food products?
A: For all foods from animals, regulation is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These agencies address assurance of food and environmental safety, as well as animal health, and have clear divisions of regulatory oversight. Based on consensus science reports (NAS, 2002 and 2004) and the risk assessment conducted by FDA, there is no reason to anticipate that foods from cloned animals will be regulated any differently than other animal-derived foods. None of the scientific studies evaluated identify any nutritional or toxicological difference in the composition of meat or milk from clones and their offspring with the equivalent meat and milk products we now eat produced from traditional breeding techniques.
Q: Will foods from cloned animals be labeled as such?
A: No. FDA’s labeling policy requires labeling only to indicate actual differences in safety or nutritional factors. A number of peer-reviewed papers and a report by the National Academies of Science (2004) have stated that the nutritional composition of meat and milk from cloned animals is within normal standards, and therefore there would be no science-based requirement to label foods from cloned animals. Some would argue that such labels would actually create confusion since they would imply there was a safety or nutritional difference between the food products of cloned animals versus non-cloned animals, which there is not.
Q: What does the general public think of eating food from cloned animals?
A: U.S. consumers are growing less wary of animal cloning. The 2007 IFIC survey http://www.ific.org/research/biotechres.cfm found that 49% of U.S. consumers say they are “somewhat” or “very” likely to purchase products from the offspring of cloned animals compared to 41% in 2006, if FDA determined them to be safe. Although plant biotechnology is rated more favorably by consumers than animal biotechnology, including cloning, increased consumer awareness correlates with greater favorability for both types according to IFIC research, highlighting the importance of educational outreach.
More Information on Food from Cloned Animals:
U.S. Food and Drug Administration Cloning “Myths”
U.S. Food and Drug Administration Final Risk Assessment on Animal Cloning
U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine