TOKYO (Reuters) - A study group for Japan's top safety watchdog said cloned animals are safe for food, the first step in a series of decisions needed before the watchdog makes recommendations to the government.
With several meetings pending by a higher-level committee of experts, it will take months before the Food Safety Commission reports its assessment on the safety of food in production using the controversial reproductive technology.
The United States in January last year opened the door to bringing meat and milk from cloned cattle, hogs and goats and their offspring into the food supply.
"The working group focused on the assessment of the health of cloned cattle and hogs. The assumption of their discussion was that if such animals are healthy, food made from them would be safe," said Kazuo Funasaka, a spokesman at the commission, said on Tuesday.
"Their conclusion is that based on the scientific knowledge and information available at present, such food is as safe as cattle and hogs bred conventionally," he said.
Cloning animals is considered a key technology to improve efficiency in livestock production.
Japan's health ministry asked the commission in April 2008 for its assessment on safety of such food.
Japan's government has had to face fierce criticism from consumers over its handling of tainted imported rice, and a series of food scandals last year have made consumers even more cautious about food from cloned animals.
But Japan was among the first countries to produce cloned animals. It bred cloned cattle in 1998 and the cumulative total of such cattle now totals more than 550. It also breeds cloned hogs and goats, all for research purposes.
Reporting by Risa Maeda; Editing by Edwina Gibbs