Cloned Farmed Animals Spark Trade Concerns

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Cloned Farmed Animals Spark Trade Concerns

By Tom Spears on
August 2009

Federal food officials expect cloned farm animals to reach U.S. markets in just two to four years, making some Canadians -- and possibly foreign countries -- question the safety of our own meat.

"Cloning technology is now becoming commercially viable and accessible to the industry," an internal federal summary of the cloning issue says.

Canadian law doesn't allow sales of cloned products unless they pass a safety test. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has accepted the safety of meat and milk from cloned animals, with no special safety tests or labeling required.

And those cloned animals could enter Canada, either as breeding stock or as meat.

Now the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and other departments are studying a possible future "when cloned product may make up a significant part of the market."

And as different countries may adopt different rules, "market and trade challenges are thus a possibility in the near to long term," it says in a summary of the issue.

Last fall, CFIA estimated there were already 600 cloned cattle, pigs and goats in the U.S.

The documents were obtained through an access to information request by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin.

The main cloning method is the same one that created Dolly the sheep. It's called somatic cell nuclear transfer, and involved transplanting the DNA from an adult animal into an egg cell, which then becomes a fetus with the same set of genes as the adult animal.

The big problem, the federal documents warn, is that food and breeding stock are widely bought and sold across the Canada-U.S. border.

If the Americans start selling unlabelled meat or milk from cloned animals, these are expected to get into Canada.

And this could cause European countries to ban American meat -- and ours along with it, to be on the safe side.

European Union officials declared last year that meat from cloned animals is safe, but raised objections to cloning on the grounds of animal welfare.

Consumers won't likely get cloned meat directly, the documents suggest. Cloning is far too expensive to waste on hamburgers.

"Due to their current cost, cloned animals are expected to be used as elite breeding animals. Meat and milk from the progeny of cloned animals will be the first to enter the marketplace."

As well, semen and embryos from cloned animals could be sold to beef or dairy farmers.

The U.S. government has asked meat producers for a voluntary moratorium on selling cloned meat to consumers. But the moratorium doesn't cover the use of cloned animals for breeding.

The document notes that the cloning issue has been under discussion between Canada, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. trade officials.

Canadians have told pollsters they don't trust the government's food surveillance, says a CFIA analysis.

This suggests that "a declaration that cloned meat is safe would be met by demand for food from non-cloned sources," it says.

But there's a catch: There's no test today that shows whether an animal is cloned, since it is copied, not genetically modified.

CFIA, Agriculture Canada, Health Canada and Foreign Affairs and International Trade are all involved in discussions on the issue.

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