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5-Animals: Animal clones as food source face US scrutiny

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TITLE:  Animal clones as food source face US scrutiny
SOURCE: Reuters, by Lisa Richwine
DATE:   November 28, 2001

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Animal clones as food source face US scrutiny

WASHINGTON - While world attention focused this week on a report of the 
first cloned human embryo, regulators were already at work looking at 
whether animal clones are safe for the U.S. food supply. Animal cloning has 
progressed since 1997, when researchers introduced Dolly the sheep, the 
first cloned adult mammal. Biotechnology companies have produced duplicates 
of prized animals and are marketing the technology to animal owners. With 
the field moving quickly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is 
weighing whether to regulate cloned farm animals that people might consume.

Some cloning experts have argued that all clones have at least subtle 
irregularities that cannot be easily detected, and consumer groups say 
federal oversight is needed until more is known. "We don't think the FDA 
should rush headlong into just saying these things are okay and allowing 
the animals to be commercialized rapidly," said Joseph Mendelson, legal 
director for the Washington-based Center for Food Safety. The National 
Research Council will convene a meeting yesterday to prepare a report for 
the FDA on bioengineered animals.

Two firms are scheduled to tell the scientific experts that their cloned 
cows are apparently normal and thriving. "We are up to our ears in clones," 
Michael Bishop, president of DeForest, Wisconsin-based Infigen Inc., said 
in an interview. "We have normal cows. They are producing milk, their milk 
is normal. They perform normally in every way," he said, adding the 
privately owned company was preparing the information for publication in a 
scientific journal.

Advanced Cell Technology, the firm that made headlines by announcing on 
Sunday it had cloned human embryos to derive stem cells for potential 
medical therapies, also will report that its cloned cattle appear normal. 
The private company, based in Worcester, Massachusetts, reported in the 
journal Science that it had tested 24 adult cows and found nothing unusual.

The FDA is evaluating whether meat or milk from clones is safe for human 
consumption. In June, the agency urged companies that clone livestock to 
apply for approval if they want to sell the animals as food. Officials plan 
to use the forthcoming National Research Council report, due out next 
spring, to help them craft a formal policy on whether companies will need 
FDA approval before they market cloned animals, similar to the clearance 
needed to sell pharmaceuticals.

In addition to scrutinizing clones, the National Research Council also will 
review the effects of other bioengineered animals on human health, the 
environment and animal welfare. For example, Infigen has created cloned 
cows that are producing therapeutic proteins in their milk. Another firm 
wants to sell salmon genetically modified to grow faster. Other researchers 
will discuss the possibility of genetically altered insects, such as 
malaria-free mosquitoes.


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