Cloned meat and dairy products step closer to EU supermarkets
By Darren Ennis
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Meat and milk from cloned animals moved a step closer to European Union supermarket shelves on Friday after the bloc's top food safety agency said cloned food products are safe to eat.
In March 2007, the European Commission -- the EU's executive arm -- asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to assess the possible implications of cloning for food safety, animal health, animal welfare and environment in the bloc.
In its first response posted on its website (www.efsa.eu), the EFSA said it "is very unlikely that any difference exists in terms of food safety between food products originating from clones and their progeny compared with those derived from conventionally bred animals."
It added that "no environmental impact is foreseen as a result of animal cloning."
Many consumer and religious groups strongly oppose cloning, which takes cells from an adult and fuses them with others before implanting them in a surrogate mother. They say scientists don't know its effects on nutrition and biology.
Advocates of livestock cloning say the technology will help produce more milk and lean, tender meat by creating more disease-resistant animals. They insist it is perfectly safe.
EFSA has now opened a consultation process with member states and industry until February 25 before giving its final opinion in May. The Commission's ethics committee is also due to publish its view on the matter next week.
"We take food safety very seriously, so we must wait for these opinions and then we will also look at our survey of public opinion in the 27 member states later this year before making any assessment," a spokeswoman for EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said.
If the technology gets a green light from the EFSA, cloned food products could be in supermarkets across the 27-country bloc in the next couple of years, a Commission official said.
Last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave its backing to meat and milk products from cloned cattle, pigs and goats, prompting EU authorities to act.
Hundreds of animals have been cloned mainly in the United States, but the Commission believes cloning is likely to develop both in the EU and internationally.
Britain and Germany are leading the push to allow cloned products to be sold in the EU and London has already confirmed that it has imported a cloned offspring, a Commission official said.
Regardless of the EFSA's decision, consumers may need more assurances. More than half of shoppers in a recent survey by the International Food Information Council said they were unlikely to buy food made from cloned animals.
The largest U.S. dairy producer and distributor, Dean Foods , said last month that it would not sell milk from cloned animals due to consumer concerns.
(Editing by Peter Blackburn)