Cloning companies set database to track animals

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new database will allow food companies to identify a cloned animal as it moves through the food supply chain from farm to slaughterhouse, two of the largest U.S. livestock cloning companies said on Wednesday.

ViaGen and TransOva Genetics, which developed the tracking system, would give each cloned animal a unique ID that can be entered into a registry and used by livestock auction markets or packers and processors to identify the animal.

The database would make it easier for companies to show consumers their products are not made from cloned animals. It was unveiled as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prepares a final ruling on meat and other goods taken from clones.

Opponents of cloning said the database does not go far enough to protect consumers, and they urged the FDA to delay its final ruling until more studies can be done on safety of meat and milk from cloned animals.

The FDA ruled in a draft decision last December that food made from cloned cattle, pigs and goats was safe to eat. Many expect the FDA to now permit their sale.

“This system is not a health or a safety program, as the scientific consensus is clear: food derived from clones and their offspring is as safe as any other food,” said Mark Walton, president of ViaGen.

Proponents have touted cloned animals as safe and hope the technology will create animals that produce more milk, better meat and are more disease-resistant.

The new tracking program was developed over the last year with members from the food industry. The companies said the owner of a cloned animal would pay a deposit, about $1,000 for a cow or bull, on top of what they pay for the clone, to ensure they follow proper marketing and disposal of the animal.

The farmer or breeder would get the deposit back after the death of the animal, consumption by owner or sale to a meat packer or processor.

The cloning companies said the database would not include the progeny of clones, which they view like any other offspring produced from traditional animals.

Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group, said the cloning database was riddled with flaws, including its failure to track offspring.

“The proposal neither provides new studies on the safety of clones nor protects the consumers’ right to know whether their food or dairy contains products from clones,” said Mendelson.

Democratic lawmakers and several consumer groups have asked FDA to wait until more safety studies are conducted before it decides whether milk and meat from some cloned animals are safe to eat.

The multibillion-dollar spending bill that passed the House of Representatives late Monday directed the FDA to complete further review and analysis before issuing a final cloning decision.

A similar measure was included in the farm bill that passed in the Senate last week.

Dean Foods Co., the largest U.S. dairy processor and distributor, has said it will not sell milk from animals that have been cloned because of ongoing consumer concerns.

The Food Marketing Institute, which represents food retailers and wholesalers, supports the database.

“The current system is a huge step forward in being able to provide the tracking that consumers will want,” said Tim Hammonds, president of FMI.

Reporting by Christopher Doering; Editing by David Gregorio