, December 20, 2007 (ENS) - The two largest cloning companies in the United States said Wednesday that they will keep a registry of all their animals that will allow food companies to identify cloned animals when they move into the food processing chain.
Trans Ova Genetics of Sioux Center, Iowa and ViaGen Inc. of Austin, Texas announced the new supply chain management system in response to concerns from lawmakers, the food industry and consumers who are uneasy about eating cloned animals.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, has said it may start allowing producers to use cloning to breed genetically superior cows, pigs and goats for food by the end of the year.
In December 2006, the FDA released a draft risk assessment based on hundreds of domestic and international peer-reviewed studies stating that food derived from clones and their offspring is indistinguishable from that of conventionally reproduced animals.
A cloned cow and its calf in Tennessee (Photo courtesy University of Tennessee Cloning Project)
In addition, two previous reports by the National Academy of Sciences found there are no safety concerns associated with the food products of cloned animals.
But concerns remain. Senators Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania introduced an amendment to the farm bill to require labeling of products from clones. The amendment was approved in the Senate version of the bill, by not by the House. A conference committee will meet shortly to harmonize the two versions of the bill, and the fate of the cloning amendment will be decided there.
"Just because something has been created in a lab, doesnít mean we should have to eat it," said Senator Mikulski. "If we discover a problem with cloned food after it is in our food supply and itís not labeled, the FDA wonít be able to recall it like they did Vioxx - the food will already be tainted."
"We have been down this road before with product safety - the FDA has a credibility crisis," said Mikulski. "I believe in science, in research, and in a transparent process. Before we allow cloned animals into our food supply, we must know more about it. When something is this new, unclear and uncertain, we need to be sure."
The FDA says labels are not needed because the meat and milk pose no special risks.
ViaGen and Trans Ova Genetics say they devised the clone tracking registry with the help of 20 organizations representing every sector of the food chain to provide food processors the opportunity to confidently deliver to their customers meat and dairy products that were not produced by cloned animals.
The registry would not track conventionally bred animals that are the offspring of clones.
"Because so few clones currently exist, putting this system into place immediately virtually ensures that processors will be able to identify food from a cloned animal if thatís their goal," said Mark Walton, president of cloning company ViaGen Inc.
There are approximately 650 cloned animals currently in the United States, Walton says.
The program works through use of a national registry, affidavits and incentives.
Cloning companies will give each cloned animal a unique ID. This identification will be entered into a registry that can be queried and verified by the livestock auction market or packer/processor.
When the cloning company delivers the animal, the owner will sign an affidavit committing to proper marketing or disposal of the animal or, in the case of dairy cattle, proper marketing of its milk.
Walton says the owner pays an "incentive deposit" to the cloning company, which is returned when they notify the company of death (verified by veterinarian), consumption by owner (verified by meat locker) or sale to a packer/processor that accepts clones (verified by signed statement from packer/processor).
"There is no argument about the safety of these products and the extremely limited number of clones makes it unlikely anyone will eat food from a cloned animal," said Walton. "However, we wanted to accommodate those industry segments who may wish to market only traditional products."
"Cloned animals have been extensively studied and found to be safe," said David Faber, president of cloning company Trans Ova Genetics. "However, we are happy to assist the supply chain as it gains further confidence in the benefits that this exciting process can provide to farmers, processors and consumers."
They may be considered safe to eat, but meat and milk products from cloned animals and their offspring are unlikely to be marketed as organic.
The National Organic Standards Board, an expert advisory panel to the U.S. Agriculture Department's National Organic Program, has made it clear that organic agriculture should not allow the use of cloned animals or their offspring in the production of organic food.
The board voted in April to exclude cloned animals, their offspring, and any food products from cloned animals from the organic sector.
"This is a victory for farmers, consumers and retailers who want to protect organic food and agriculture from a highly controversial and experimental technology," said Will Fantle of The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy and organic watchdog group.
"This vote seeks to plant a flag squarely in the center of the organic food sector, declaring it off limits to cloning while providing consumers a clear choice in the marketplace."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.
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