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4-Animals: U.S. National Academy of Sciences on risks of GE animals

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TITLE:  Animal Biotechnology: Science-Based Concerns
SOURCE: National Academies of Sciences, USA, Press Release
DATE:   Aug 20, 2002

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Potential Environmental Problems With Animal Biotech Raise Some Concerns;
No Evidence Cloned Animals Are Unsafe to Eat, But Data Still Lacking

WASHINGTON -- The possibility of certain genetically engineered fish and
other animals escaping and potentially introducing engineered genes into wild
populations tops the list of concerns associated with advances in animal
biotechnology, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research
Council. On the other hand, no evidence yet exists that products from cloned
livestock are unsafe for human consumption, although the committee that wrote
the report found it difficult to identify concerns without additional
information about food composition, which could be collected using available
analytical tests.

The report was requested by the Food and Drug Administration as it prepares
to rule on the safety of certain animal-biotechnology products, particularly
cloned cattle. The committee was asked only to identify science-based
concerns; it was not asked to identify potential benefits from animal biotechnology
or to make policy recommendations.

"As is the case with any new technology, it is almost impossible to state
that there is no concern, and in certain areas of animal biotechnology we did
identify some legitimate ones," said committee chair John G. Vandenbergh,
professor of zoology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh. "By identifying
these concerns, we hope we can help this technology be applied as safely as
possible without denying the public its potential benefits."

The committee said the greatest concern is the ability of certain
genetically engineered organisms to escape and reproduce in the natural environment.
Genetically engineered insects, shellfish, fish, and other animals that can
easily escape, that are highly mobile, and that become feral easily are of
particular concern, especially if they are more successful at reproduction than
their natural counterparts. For example, it is possible that if transgenic
salmon with genes engineered to accelerate growth were released into the natural
environment, they could compete more successfully for food and mates than
wild salmon.

By creating transgenic animals with genes from another species, or by
removing or "turning off" genes, animals can be produced to grow bigger and more
rapidly, or possess traits beneficial to humans, such as meat with more protein
and less fat, eggs with less cholesterol, milk containing pharmaceutical
products, or even tissues and organs suitable for human transplantation. And
through somatic cell nuclear transfer -- the technique used to clone Dolly the
sheep -- scientists can create an almost identical copy of an adult animal
with desirable traits. The owners of a few hundred cows cloned this way in the
United States have been asked by FDA to hold off selling the cows' milk and
meat, or breeding them, pending regulatory approval.

In transgenic animals developed for human consumption, there is a low
probability that a few new proteins expressed when genes are inserted from another
species may trigger allergic or hypersensitive reactions in a small, but
unknown, percentage of people. The potential for allergenicity is difficult to
gauge, however, since it can only be detected once a person is exposed and
experiences a reaction. While a reaction will be recognizable, as it is with
well-known allergens like peanuts and shellfish, the uncertainty surrounding new
proteins and potential impact on consumers who may be allergic is serious
enough to elicit a moderate level of concern, according to the committee.

Animals genetically engineered to produce non-food products, such as cows
that produce drugs in their milk, are not intended to enter the food supply.
But the committee said there are grounds for concern that adequate controls be
in place to ensure restrictions on the use of carcasses from such animals. In
at least one instance, meat from the carcasses of such animals was used to
make a food product.

The applications of biotechnology may someday reduce the number of animals
needed for food and fiber production, but they also can have adverse effects
on the welfare of animals, the committee noted. For example, calves and lambs
produced through in vitro fertilization or cloning tend to have higher birth
weights and longer gestation periods, which leads to difficult births often
requiring caesarian sections. In addition, some of the biotechnology
techniques in use today are extremely inefficient at producing fetuses that survive.
Of the transgenic animals that do survive, many do not express the inserted
gene properly, often resulting in anatomical, physiological, or behavioral
abnormalities. There is also a concern that proteins designed to produce a
pharmaceutical product in the animal's milk may find their way to other parts of
the animal's body, possibly causing adverse effects.

Although the committee was not asked to make any policy recommendations, it
suggested that the current regulatory framework may not be adequate given
that the responsibilities of federal agencies for regulating animal
biotechnology are unclear in some respects.

The study was sponsored by the Food and Drug Administration. The National
Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of
Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit
institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional
charter. A committee roster follows. Read the full text of Animal Biotechnology:
Science-Based Concerns for free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other
publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for
purchase from the National Academy Press Web site or by calling (202) 334-3313
or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and
Public Information (contacts listed above).

[This news release and the report are available at]

Division on Earth and Life Studies
Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources

Committee on Defining Science-Based Concerns Associated with Products of

John G. Vandenbergh (chair)
Professor of Zoology
North Carolina State University

Alwynelle Self Ahl
USDA Fellow
Center for the Integrated Study of Food, Animal, and Plant Systems
Tuskegee University
Tuskegee, Ala.

John M. Coffin*
American Cancer Society Research Professor of Molecular Biology and
School of Medicine
Tufts University, and 
HIV Drug Resistance Program
National Cancer Institute
Frederick, Md.

Willard H. Eyestone
Research Associate Professor
Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine

Eric M. Hallerman
Associate Professor
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, Va.

Tung-Ching Lee
Distinguished Professor of Food Science and Nutrition
Cook College
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, N.J.

Joy A. Mench
Animal Science Department
University of California

William M. Muir
Professor of Breeding and Genetics
Department of Animal Sciences, and 
High Definition Genomics Center
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Ill.

R. Michael Roberts*
Curator's Professor of Animal Science and Biochemistry
University of Missouri

Theodore H. Schettler
Science Director
Science and Environmental Health Network

Lawrence B. Schook
Professor of Comparative Genomics
Department of Animal Sciences and Veterinary Pathobiology
University of Illinois

Michael R. Taylor
Senior Fellow and Director
Center for Risk Management
Resources for the Future
Washington, D.C.


Kim Waddell
Study Director

	Member, National Academy of SciencesSciences

Bill Kearney, Media Relations Officer
Chris Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant
(+1 202) 334-2138


Hartmut Meyer           CONTACT UNTIL
Kleine Wiese 6        September 10, 2002:
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