CORRECTED: FDA downplays long-term impact of animal cloning

FDA clarifies that products not entered food supply, lead and paragraph 7

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The 600 cloned animals in the United States most likely have not produced offspring whose products have entered the food supply, an official with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Thursday, as the agency downplayed the long-term impact cloning will have on the food supply.

The FDA last week said meat and milk from cloned cattle, swine and goats and their offspring were as safe to eat as products obtained from traditional animals. Before then, farmers and ranchers had followed a voluntary moratorium that prevented the sale of clones and their offspring.

“There is no feeling that this will ever become a way of mass producing animals,” Stephen Sundlof, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied nutrition, told reporters.

He noted that another reproductive technique used in agriculture, in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer, has been used to create only a small portion of the millions of animals on U.S. farms.

It could take four or five years before consumers are able to buy clone-derived food on a wide scale as animals need to be cloned, mature and give birth. So far, several major food companies including Tyson Foods Inc, the largest U.S. meat company, and Smithfield Foods Inc have said they would avoid using cloned animals.

The FDA and the small cloning industry both maintain cloned animals are as safe as regular animals.

“At this point in time we don’t believe there are offspring out there in the nation’s food supply system,” said Sundlof. “We are not really concerned with tracking progeny because they are in every respect a normal animal.”

Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, have introduced legislation that would require a label on products from cloned animals or their offspring. Some state lawmakers also have introduced similar legislation.

“If cloned food is safe, let it onto the market, but give consumers the information they need to avoid these products if they choose to,” said Mikulski.

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.

Critics still contend not enough is known about the technology to ensure it is safe and they also say the FDA needs to address concerns over animal cruelty and ethical issues.

Editing by Russell Blinch