Probably no reproductive technology creates more misunderstanding and apprehension than cloning. The term tends to conjure images of evil sci-fi scientists tending tanks full of bubbling goo, growing fully grown reproductions to do their nefarious bidding.
But in spite of public misgivings, cloning has significant potential as a genetic tool in livestock production, and numerous studies have demonstrated its safety in food animals. Back in 2008, the FDA ruled that meat and milk from cloned animals was safe to consume and that no specific labeling requirements would be mandated for such products. U.S producers currently adhere to a voluntary policy to keep cloned animals out of the food chain.
Skepticism has remained higher in Europe, but this week the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a scientific statement saying with respect to food safety, there are no indications that differences exist between meat or milk derived from healthy clones or their offspring from those of healthy, conventionally bred animals. Specific findings include:
- With respect to food safety, for cattle and pigs there are no indications that differences exist for meat or milk products from healthy clones or from their offspring compared with those from healthy conventionally bred animals. Data on clones of farmed species for food production other than cattle and pigs remain limited and do not allow for the assessment of food safety and animal health and welfare aspects.
- The cloning technology using Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) can produce healthy animal clones but during the SCNT cloning process, animal health and welfare remain a matter of concern mainly due the increased number of deaths at all stages of development (from the perinatal period until the juvenile stage, as well as mortality through abortion). Importantly however, these concerns do not affect offspring of clones born through conventional breeding as they appear to develop normally.
- From the limited data available, there are no scientific indications that would suggest a risk to genetic diversity, biodiversity or the environment from farmed clones when compared to conventionally bred farmed animals.
- Continued research with farmed animals for the optimization of the different steps of SCNT cloning has resulted in increased knowledge since EFSA’s last statement on this issue. Limited improvements were shown by some researchers but so far have not led to the significant enhancement of the overall efficiency of cloning.
EFSA’s statement also provides information on the current efficiency of cloning in comparison to assisted reproductive technologies using in vitro embryos.
Read more from the European Food Safety Authority.