Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Are we already dining on clones?

Are we already dining on clones? No labels on clone food in U.S., FDA says

ALEX ROSLIN

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Canadians may have been consuming food from clones for years without knowing it, despite a Health Canada ban.

That’s one of the surprising revelations from documents on cloning from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency obtained under the access-to-information legislation.

About 800 cloned dairy cattle produced through an early version of cloning called embryonic-cell nuclear transfer and from embryo splitting have been registered in Canada since the 1980s, said a CFIA background paper cloning written in 2006.

The CFIA paper said food from these clones may be sold to Canadian consumers. “There is generally no restriction on the marketing of products, by-products or the progeny of animal clones that are produced using the embryo-splitting technique in Canada or elsewhere,” it said.

The CFIA paper didn’t say whether milk from the cloned cows was indeed sold to consumers. An agency spokes- person didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Health Canada, however, says no food from clones, including embryonic-cell nuclear-transfer clones, may be sold in the country. “It shouldn’t be on the market,” said Paul Duchesne, a department spokesman.

Embryonic-cell nuclear transfer was used in the 1980s and early 1990s but was replaced in the mid-1990s by an improved technique called somatic-cell nuclear-transfer cloning, which replicates an adult animal, instead of an embryo.

Donald Coover, a Kansas veterinarian who says he has sold clones and their semen to farmers in the U.S. for years, said hundreds of embryonic-cell nuclear-transfer clones were produced in the U.S. and that their meat and milk quietly entered the U.S. food supply without any official safety review.

He said it’s very likely the same thing happened in Canada. “Nobody at the time made a big deal about it.” And now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has okayed clone food for human consumption, the CFIA again seems to have no plan for keeping it out of the country, according to an internal email sent by a manager at the agency.

“CFIA has no specific regulatory controls for animal clones,” said the email, dated Feb. 14, a month after the FDA’s decision last January. “There are no special tracking provisions.” The issue of tracking food from clones is complicated by the fact that the FDA has decided not to label the food, and there’s no way to test whether a particular animal is a clone.

“All we’ve had are some preliminary discussions on … the feasibility of detection,” said a CFIA official, who spoke off the record because she is not authorized to talk with journalists. “Nothing has been put in place, and no policies have been created around that.”

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