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Cloned Cuisine (video)
October 01, 2002

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Interviewee: John Vandenbergh, North Carolina State University.

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Produced by Joyce Gramza

Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc., with additional footage from North Carolina State University, Advanced Cell Technology, SEK Genetics, and Aqua Bounty Inc.

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Cloning Pets

Cloning People

Will you be eating cloned cuisine in the near future?

As this ScienCentral News video reports, genetically engineered animals may soon be what's for dinner. But the government still has some safety questions first.

Awaiting approvals

Beef from the offspring of cloned prize bulls may make it onto your dinner plate soon. But if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) heeds the concerns of the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council (NRC), fast-growing genetically engineered salmon will have to fight upstream to make it to the table.

The FDA asked an NRC committee to report on "Animal Biotechnology: Science-based Concerns" after several companies applied to the agency for approval to market food products from animals produced using biotechnology. The agency now must decide how to safely regulate these and future products of animal biotechnology. The committee's task was to rank concerns about risks, not to assess the benefits or to recommend regulations. 

The panel gave a low food safety risk to eating livestock that have been cloned, but not altered, by the introduction of new genes.but low risk does not mean no risk.

The method for cloning adult animals is called somatic nuclear transfer. The concern is that the nucleus of the adult donor cell must be reprogrammed to act like an embryo cell. "That adds one step to the story and that's the reprogramming of that nucleus," says John Vandenbergh professor of zoology at North Carolina State University, who chaired the NRC committee. While "the committee did say quite clearly that the results of cloning an animal that seems to be safe for its production of foods do not present a hazard, the technology and the scientific information are just not totally adequate to make us feel there's no concern there."

The report was encouraging to livestock cloning businesses like Cyagra and Infigen, which says its unpublished research shows that meat, milk and eggs from clones are equivalent to products already known to be safe. Vandenbergh says the industry is rapidly working on getting more evidence to the FDA.

Meanwhile the FDA has asked the companies to voluntarily keep the products out of the food supply while it decides on whether, and how, to regulate them. Experts say that decision could come in 2003. If the FDA decides not to regulate cloned food products, the food would still have to meet the US Department of Agriculture's food safety standards.

Environmental Issues

Genetically modified salmon topped the risk list because, aside from whether they are safe to eat, they contain a foreign gene and are also at risk to escape and possibly out-compete or interbreed with wild salmon populations.

"It was a little surprising, at least to me, but our top concern ended up being concern for the environment," says Vandenbergh. He says the committee assumed that there would be no way to guarantee the fish could be confined. "We have evidence now from conventionally bred salmon that anywhere from two to three percent of the animals can be expected to escape."

The FDA said it plans to regulate transgenic animals like the salmon as it regulates new veterinary drugs like bovine somatotropin, the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone that boosts milk production. But the committee urged the FDA to consult with the US Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies with experience in environmental regulation.

Aqua Bounty, the company producing the transgenic salmon, responded by announcing it will only farm sterile females. Joe McGonigle, Aqua Bounty's spokesman, said they hoped to have FDA approval by 2004, but that it could take several more years to satisfy any future environmental regulations. Meanwhile, food safety and environmental advocates are recruiting famous chefs to its campaign against the salmon.

by Joyce Gramza

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