WASHINGTON - A senior official of the Food and Drug Administration said yesterday that he saw no reason to place special labels on milk and meat from cloned animals, if those products reach grocery shelves.
The comment on labeling added a second controversial element to the FDA's announcement yesterday that an advisory panel had found no health reasons to keep cloned animals and their milk out of the nation's food supply, although the panel wanted to review more data.
The FDA panel's conclusions represented an initial, tentative, but also important step in turning animal cloning into a commercially useful way to produce food. The agency said it wanted to hear from the public before granting final approval to the sale of meat and dairy products from cloned animals.
Because they found no significant differences between mature cloned animals and animals produced through conventional reproduction, FDA officials also said they saw no reason to provide special labels letting consumers know that meat, milk and other animal byproducts came from cloned animals.
One group sharply disagreed. "Citizens deserve the right to know what is in their food and how it has been produced," said George Siemon, chief executive of Organic Valley, a large cooperative representing organic farmers. "At least if the product is labeled as being from cloned animals, consumers can have a choice."
In a preliminary report assessing potential human health risks of animal cloning, the FDA's Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee said: "The current weight of evidence suggests that there are no biological reasons, either based on underlying scientific assumptions or empirical studies, to indicate that consumption of edible products from clones of cattle, pigs, sheep or goats poses a greater risk than consumption of those products from their non-clone counterparts."
And, it said, eating their offspring appeared as safe as eating the offspring of non-cloned animals.
However, the committee said, its confidence in the conclusions would be increased with additional data.
The study focused largely on cattle, because more data were available on cattle than on other food animals. It drew similar conclusions for pigs and goats. It said little information was available on cloned sheep. According to the FDA, 400 to 500 cows and bulls have been produced by cloning.
The report builds on the findings of a National Academy of Sciences study issued a year ago that declared that while food from such clones posed a "low level of food safety concern," more data were needed.
Food producers envisage the use of cloning - if it is commercially viable - to reproduce the most genetically desirable cows and bulls, to minimize the cost of raising them and maximize the amount of meat and milk they produce.
Applauding the FDA report, Lisa Dry, communications director of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said: "Cloning can help livestock producers deliver what consumers want: nutritious, wholesome food products provided to them in a repeatable and reliable manner, and at an affordable price."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.