Would you eat meat or drink milk derived from cloned animals? The question—long the stuff of science fiction—is now one that consumers need to consider seriously. The European Food Safety Authority announced Friday that it considers food from clones safe to eat. In the United States, meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to lift a voluntary moratorium issued in 2001 on food products that come from livestock that originated in a petri dish. Companies selling the clones promote the animals' ability to provide superior offspring to livestock breeders, for example. U.S. News tracked down answers to some frequently asked questions about the issue.
Is it safe to eat meat or milk from cloned animals?
Food from cloned animals is safe for human consumption, the FDA declared last year. According to a supporting paper by scientists in the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, none of the research reviewed had identified "any remarkable nutritionally or toxicologically important differences in the composition of the meat or milk." At the same time, however, the FDA did not give the stamp of approval for the sale of such products to the public. And groups such as the Center for Food Safety and the Union of Concerned Scientists are apprehensive about letting the goods into the food supply; they've called for long-term studies on the health effects in humans who consume the products. New Zealand and Australia, though, have already deemed such products safe, and other countries are expected to do the same.
How are animals cloned?
A single cell is taken from the desired animal, cultivated into an embryo in a lab, and implanted into the womb of a live "mother" of the same species, which goes through pregnancy and delivers naturally. Cloning is costly: Each cloned animal has a price tag of about $15,000. And it's prone to failure. A great number of cloned offspring die before being born or shortly after birth.
When will the food products be on supermarket shelves?
Once the FDA lifts its moratorium, experts say, cloned products still won't become commercially available for several years. And because cloned animals are so expensive to create, it's likely they'll be used only as breeders—to produce noncloned offspring—at least initially.
How will I know if cloned livestock was—or wasn't—used in a particular brand or package?
The FDA has said labeling on clone-derived food products will not be mandatory. But the two biggest livestock cloning companies, ViaGen of Austin and Trans Ova of Sioux Center, Iowa, last month proposed a voluntary system that would enable participating food companies to track cloned animals through a national registry. Some retailers—Whole Foods Market, for example—have said they will not sell meat or milk from cloned animals, and the United States Department of Agriculture says that meat from cloned animals cannot be considered organic.