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Gov't Food Panel Says Cloned Beef and Pork Safe

by 5m Editor
13 March 2009, at 8:54am

JAPAN - Beef and pork products from somatic cell-cloned cows, pigs and their offspring are as safe as those from conventionally bred ones, the Japanese government's food risk assessment body said in a draft report released yesterday.

The assessment by the Food Safety Commission, a body under the Cabinet Office, could pave the way for beef and pork products from cloned animals to be put on the market.

The seven-member commission will file a final report to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare after soliciting public comment for about a month, officials said.

The health ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will study the commission's final report due later and decide whether to allow products from cloned animals to be put on the market, they said.

However, the farm ministry is cautious about an immediate lifting of a de facto ban on beef and pork products from cloned animals for human consumption, noting the need to listen to consumers and producers and also to study various aspects other than the safety issue.

One farm ministry official said the ministry would not take it as a green light even though the Food Safety Commission finally concluded that products from cloned animals are safe, and would not ask producers and dealers to immediately lift the current voluntary ban on the distribution of products from cloned animals, the official said.

In the draft, the commission said many cows and pigs cloned from somatic cells die at birth or shortly afterward. But it said that those cloned animals could grow to be as healthy as conventionally bred ones if they survive for their first six months.

In conclusion, the panel said there is no safety problem for human consumption of beef and pork from cloned animals.

The Food Safety Commission is an organization that undertakes risk assessment and is independent from the farm and health ministries. It is chaired by Takeshi Mikami, an authority on animal medicine and a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.

Somatic cell cloning is a technology that uses cells of an animal to produce one that has the same genes as the parent body. In the case of a cloned cow, the quality of beef and the milk yield are said to be excellent as it inherits genes from its parent.

In Japan, a Kinki University team was successful in producing a somatic cell-cloned cow in 1998, leading the world in this field.

A total of 557 cows were born through somatic cell cloning technology between 1998 and 2008 in Japan, farm ministry data show. Of those, 82 cows are still alive.

During the same period, 335 pigs were born through similar technology, of which 35 pigs are alive.

Somatic cell-cloned animals were reported to have been born in the United States, Europe, China, Australia and Argentina.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in January 2008 that products from cloned cows, pigs and goats are as safe for human consumption as products from conventionally bred animals. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) followed the United States.

However, US producers have imposed a voluntary ban on such products, while they are not for sale on the European market.

Keisuke Amagasa, leader of the Citizens Biotechnology Information Center, a Tokyo-based civic group, said he thinks the somatic cell cloning technology can be applied only for seed bulls in Japan.