Meat from cloned bulls entered UK food chain
A FULL inquiry was launched last night after Britain's top food watchdog revealed that meat from the offspring of a cloned cow had entered the UK food chain and been eaten.
The information has sparked a controversy over whether such products are ethical.
Yesterday, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said that under European rules suppliers are supposed to obtain a licence before selling products from cloned animals. However, it added that there was no suggestion they posed any health danger to consumers.
"While there is no evidence that consuming products from healthy clones or their offspring poses a food safety risk, meat and products from (them) are considered novel foods and would therefore need to be authorised before being placed on the market," said the FSA.
It had traced two bulls born in Britain which began life as embryos harvested from a cloned cow in the US. One was slaughtered in July of last year.
"Meat from this animal entered the food chain and will have been eaten," the agency said.
The second bull was slaughtered last month but this time action was taken before its meat entered the food chain.
In 2008, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of food from clones and their offspring, stating that the products were indistinguishable from those of non-cloned animals.
However, the European Parliament recently voted to exclude food from cloned animals from a list of approved products. A novel-food application must be made before it can be sold.
The FSA said it was also continuing an investigation into reports that milk from the offspring of cloned animals had also entered the food chain.
It had found the offspring of a cloned cow which was believed to be part of a dairy herd, but had no evidence that its milk had entered the food chain.
News of the probe has attracted widespread media coverage and food campaigners have said it raises a number of issues.
"Cloning involves applying invasive and cruel techniques on the surrogate mothers that are used for producing the clones," said Emma Hockridge, Head of Policy at the Soil Association.
She said cloning also raised worries about the safety of meat and dairy products and the spread of diseases, "as well as concerns about the ethics of cloning".
However, Brendan Curran, a geneticist from Queen Mary, University of London, said FDA tests had found no evidence that meat and milk from cloned animals or their offspring was any different from traditionally reproduced livestock.
"They have concluded, therefore, that it is safe for humans to consume produce from such animals," he said. "There is no reason why the situation should be any different in the UK."
Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, Head of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research, said he expected most consumed bananas were clones.
"I am not going to say that this story is bananas as there could be some other issues, such as whether or not FSA and EU regulations have been complied with, and about the welfare of the cows.
"I suspect the latter were very well looked after because they are valuable. As Abbie Hoffmann said, sacred cows make the tastiest hamburgers."