U.S. to decide if cloned animals OK to eat

A new phase in the controversial debate of cloning continues with officials and farmers this week discussing what should be allowed on consumers' dinner plates.

A new phase in the controversial debate on cloning continues with officials and farmers this week discussing what should be allowed on consumers' dinner plates.

The U.S. appears closer to approving the sale of meat and dairy products derived from cloned animals, with Canadian farmers and experts watching closely.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week submitted a draft of cloned food regulation recommendations to the federal government. While the final release is expected at the end of the year, the FDA appears to be endorsing the sale of food from cloned animals.

The agency issued a statement Tuesday citing "studies that show that the meat and milk from cattle clones and their offspring are as safe as that from conventionally bred animals."

Health Canada officials are waiting to evaluate the findings, said Dr. William Yan, chief of the federal agency's microbiology evaluation division.

"Countries such as Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, we work very closely together," Yan told CBC reporter Robert Zimmerman. "We're all anxious to review this data from the U.S."

While cloned products are currently forbidden for sale in Canada, advocates say that the practice could lead to higher food standards. Allan King, a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Guelph, says that cloning could specifically contribute to improved milk production and higher quality meat.

"I see no reason to not use the products from the clones," he said. "The clones are produced by a reproductive system that allows for a way of increasing the number of valuable offspring from animals that have desirable genes."

However, B.C. organic dairy farmer Jeremy Devries warns that cloning could have disastrous effects, leaving the animals vulnerable to disease.

"One small problem in that clone, you have hundreds or thousands of animals that have that same genetic trait," Devries said. "One disease or anything in that group and all of a sudden you could have catastrophic problems."

U.S. officials note that cloning, if allowed, will follow the traditional breeding practices of choosing the best animals from the herd for reproduction.

"Cloning allows the possibility of identifying the healthiest and the superior sires or boars that are going to be used for breeding purposes," said Barb Glenn of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

The U.S. National Milk Producers Federation said it does not want to see cloned milk hit the shelves until it's been proven safe. Critics say that cloned animals have been found to suffer from health problems and age prematurely. Dolly, the celebrated firstsheep to be cloned, developed arthritis at 5½ years of age. She was euthanized at the age of six.

Chris Galen,a spokesman for the federation, said farmers were reluctant to tamper with milk's wholesome image by introducing dairy productsmade from cloned animals.

With files from the Associated Press