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3-Food: Firm seeks OK to sell cloned meat in Canada

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TITLE:  Firm seeks OK to sell cloned meat
        Health Canada studying risks of mystery company's request
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen, Canada, by Kate Jaimet
DATE:   Jan 12, 2003

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Firm seeks OK to sell cloned meat
Health Canada studying risks of mystery company's request

A livestock company has asked Health Canada whether it can sell meat from 
cloned animals for human consumption.

Karen McIntyre, acting director for Health Canada's Bureau of Food Policy 
Integration, said the department began considering the request several 
months ago. "A company has come to us and said: 'We want to do this,' " she 

Ms. McIntyre said she could not reveal the name of the company or even the 
type of cloned meat it hopes to market.

No formal application to sell the meat in Canada has been made yet, but Ms. 
McIntyre said a government committee, with experts from the departments of 
Health, Environment, Agriculture, and Fisheries, has been set up to study 
the question of cloned foods.

"For us, it's related to health and safety. What are the risks associated 
with cloned animals?" she said. "That's what we're exploring right now."

Two livestock companies in the United States -- Prolinia in Athens, Georgia 
and Cyagra in Worcester, Massachusetts -- are already working on producing 
cloned pigs and cattle.

At its most extreme, the promise of cloned livestock is to create the 
ultimate in factory farming. Instead of having a herd of cattle with 
offspring of various shapes and sizes, the farmer could pick the meatiest 
adult animal, have it cloned, impregnate all of the cows with the same 
clone, and end up with a herd of identical calves yielding identical cuts 
of meat.

The problem is that current techniques are imperfect: cloning is much more 
expensive than conventional breeding, and there is a higher rate of birth 
defects, miscarriages, and deaths. As well, the lack of genetic diversity 
could make the herd not viable.

Or, a company could clone a prize bull to breed dairy cows, and consumers 
could find themselves drinking the milk of those cows. The Wisconsin-based 
Infigen Inc. is already breeding a herd of such cows.

No products of cloned animals or their descendants are now on the market in 
Canada or the United States. The American Food and Drug Administration is 
also examining the question of cloned meat, and expects to publish its 
opinion later this month.

"At present, the position we're for the most part taking is that we need to 
err on the side of caution," said Dave Trus, a geneticist at Agriculture 
and Agri-Food Canada who sits on the interdepartmental committee.

Even if a cloned animal is healthy and appears the same as any other 
animal, there could be undetected changes inside its cells, said Francois 
Pothier, a professor in the department of animal sciences at Universite 
Laval in Quebec City.

In cloning, the genetic material of an adult cell is injected into an egg 
cell whose own genetic material has been removed, he explained. In order to 
create a baby clone, the egg cell must "turn back" the biological clock of 
the adult cell to zero. During that process, genetic errors can be made. It 
is possible, for example, that the cloned animal's cells could overproduce 
a certain protein, which may not be harmful to the animal, but could have 
harmful consequences on humans.

"If the clone seems normal, in my opinion there should not be any problem 
with eating the animal. But we can't be certain there aren't modifications 
inside the cell of the animal," Mr. Pothier said. "We do not have the 
proof. As long as we don't have the proof, I think agencies like Health 
Canada might prefer to take a route of precaution."

He said tests exist to determine the chemical composition of meat, which 
should tell regulators whether the meat from the cloned animal is identical 
to that of the original animal.

But as Health Canada prepares for the day when it will have to decide 
whether to approve cloned food for human consumption, the department's past 
record in dealing with genetically novel foods does not inspire confidence, 
said Brian Ellis, associate director of the biotechnology laboratory at the 
University of British Columbia, and co-chairman of the Royal Society of 
Canada's expert panel on the future of food biotechnology.

"We have real concerns about the extent of testing that is being done on 
these products of biotechnology," he said.

Ms. McIntyre said Health Canada scientists perform a "comprehensive review" 
before they approve any new food product. Department spokesman Ryan Baker 
added that the public will have input before any new regulations are 
developed regarding cloned meat.

Mr. Ellis said that cloned meat may be safer to eat than genetically 
modified foods because scientists do not directly tamper with the genes.

But Mr. Ellis said consumers still have a right to be critical, because 
Health Canada's approval process is not sufficiently rigorous or open to 
public scrutiny.

"A big issue from my point of view is the erosion of public confidence, 
because of the lack of transparency," he said.


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