ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
The government says they're safe but don't expect to find them at the grocery store anytime soon. Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said meat and other products from cloned cattle, pigs and goats are okay to eat. But the FDA said it is not lifting a voluntary moratorium that has kept these cloned animals on the farm and their milk out of cartons.
NPR's Richard Harris reports.
RICHARD HARRIS: For more than three years, the FDA has been saying that meat and milk from cloned animals is safe to eat. Today, they finally backed this up with a 1,000-paged draft risk assessment introduced at a telephone news conference.
Steven Sundlof, who heads the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, says they've looked at more than a hundred studies of cattle, pigs and goats and see nothing to suggest any risk to human health.
Dr. STEVEN SUNDLOF (FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine): We tried to conceive a lot of different scenarios by which this technology may introduce hazards into the food supply. And we can't come up with any.
HARRIS: Clones may sound creepy, but they are essentially identical twins of other animals, just born later. The process isn't risk-free to the animals. Cloned animals are more likely to be born with problems. But that's okay with the FDA.
Dr. Sundlof says those problems are the same sort you find in livestock born with the help of commonly used technologies such as in-vitro fertilization.
Dr. SUNDLOF: The actual incident of abnormalities is greater with cloning at this point, but it was very high with in-vitro fertilization when it was first introduced as well.
HARRIS: And debilitated animals don't go into the food supply, cloned or not, he says. In fact, because it costs $20,000 to produce a cloned animal, Dr. Sundlof said clones will not soon fill pastures and pig barns.
Dr. SUNDLOF: Almost all the food that will come from the cloning process will be from the sexually produced offspring of clones and not the clones themselves. This is exactly what happens now with other elite breeding stock.
HARRIS: By the way, cloned sheep aren't included in this assessment. There wasn't enough information about their meat and milk. Michael Fernandez at the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology says public opinion polls find that most people have a low level of comfort with the idea of cloned meat and dairy.
Mr. MICHAEL FERNANDEZ (Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology): And that level of comfort could come from a lot of things. It's some concerns about safety, which presumably this FDA announcement will assuage some of those concerns. But also concerns about is this the right thing to do.
HARRIS: Carol Tucker Foreman says it's not. She's with the Consumer Federation of America. She's upset that the FDA doesn't intend to label cloned meat and dairy products so people who don't like them can avoid them.
Ms. CAROL TUCKER FOREMAN (Consumer Federation of America): It's my health. If people don't eat brains and tripe, they're safe. But they make unpleasant mental images and so, nobody wants to have them.
HARRIS: More to the point, she says, cloning price breeding stock is just as stark. The real power of the technology will be to make carbon copies of genetically engineered super cows.
Ms. FOREMAN: That's not a reason to reject cloning, but it's reason to have a bigger conversation.
HARRIS: The FDA is starting somewhat of a conversation today. Its new document is open for public comment over the next 90 days, so people can ruminate on the findings.
Susan Ruland is with the International Dairy Food Association, a trade group. She's trying to put the best face on an issue that's creating anxiety in the industry.
Ms. SUSAN RULAND (International Dairy Food Association): First of all, we're very reassured that there don't appear to be any food safety issues. And we're also reassured that the FDA's asking that no meat and milk from cloned animals be in the food supply at this time.
HARRIS: However, it is quite possible that the FDA will lift the moratorium. After all, the agency isn't supposed to worry about whether the public will actually like a product it approves. Even so, McDonald's may not be putting two cloned all-beef patties on a sesame seed bun anytime soon.
Ms. RULAND: It really will be up to the ranchers, the producers and the food companies themselves how much this would be used.
HARRIS: And that in turn will depend upon how the public feels.
Richard Harris, NPR News.
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