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.
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its unpublished research shows that meat, milk and eggs from clones are equivalent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.
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
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.
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.