In the beginning, there was Dolly. Since then, one by one, beef
and dairy cattle, pigs, and goats have joined the Scottish sheep in
a 21st century ark of cloned farm animals.
But while cloned animals have become common in the lab, they have
yet to make it to the dinner table. That could change if the Food
and Drug Administration overturns a ban on the consumption of cloned
livestock. In a few years, their meat or milk could become a regular
staple on America's menu.
The results could be significant: higher-quality meat and dairy
products, foods engineered to be more nutritious, and possibly lower
grocery prices, thanks to the arrival of more productive animals.
The infant farm cloning industry is chomping at the bit to
commercialize its research.
But consumer and animal advocates worry about the impact that
cloning could have on human health, not to mention the animals
themselves. There is no evidence "that food from cloned animals is
safe," said Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of
America in a statement. "The FDA has only limited data on the
composition of food from cloned animals, and there have been no
feeding studies to see the impact of long-term consumption. All of
the data come from groups who support animal cloning."
So far, the signs for the industry look positive. Last October,
the FDA said that food products from cloned livestock were
essentially the same as those from conventional animals. It is
working on a risk-assessment plan that, for now, indicates there is
little risk to humans who eat cloned livestock. The release of the
final assessment has yet to be scheduled.
Only a few hundred cloned cattle currently live in the United
States, mostly on research farms, so a repeal of the ban would have
little immediate effect on the food supply. However, dropping the
barrier would dismantle a hurdle that has kept the industry in the
starting blocks, proponents say.
"There's no question that the voluntary ban ... is holding the
development of this business back," says Don Coover, a rancher from
Galesburg, Kan., and owner of SEK Genetics, a cattle-genetics
company with cloning partnerships. He has financed several cloning
projects, including six clones of the high-performance bull, Full
Flush. Full Flush's calves are healthy 2-year-olds and have
increased in value more than five times their original production
cost of $20,000, he says.
Cloned cattle like them could be used to breed uniform, high-
quality offspring. "You could make animals with less fatty meat or
more nutritious milk," says Lisa Dry, communications director of the
Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington. "Or they could be
more resistant to diseases, which could make them safer for humans
Mr. Coover, who sells bull semen for artificial insemination,
says there is a growing demand for that product from top-quality
bulls. "There's quite a lot of interest in buying semen from the
clones, but we're telling people that we're not going to do that,"
he says. "It's the obligation of the FDA to make a decision that is
in the best interest of ... the producers and the broader public. …