Friday, December 29, 2006

Putting Meat On The Clone


Abe & Louis' in Boston serves steaks that are close to perfection. However, even Abe & Louis cannot guarantee the same delicious steak from different cows. This may soon change.

Yesterday the Federal Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") released its initial appraisal of the safety of meat from cloned animals, entitled "Animal Cloning: A Draft Risk Assessment" (http://www.fda.gov/cvm/Documents/Cloning_Risk_Assessment.pdf). At greater than 400 pages (including voluminous appendices containing extensive data), this report provides a very nice description of somatic cell nuclear transfer ("SCNT": Dolly-style cloning), the methodology used in the risk assessment, epigenetic reprogramming (that is, alteration of how genes express themselves in a new biochemical context, such as the new cell into which a gene-carrying nucleus is injected in SCNT), risks of cloning to the cloned animals themselves, and risks to humans of consuming cloned animals.

The FDA's report concludes that, with the exception of sheep, for which there were insufficient data to make an assessment, clones, their progeny, and their products, pose no additional threat to human health than do non-clones:

Extensive evaluation of the available data has not identified any food consumption risks or subtle hazards in healthy clones of cattle, swine, or goats...[Edible] products from healthy clones that meet existing requirements for meat and milk in commerce pose no increased food consumption risk(s) relative to comparable products from sexually-derived animals...Edible products derived from the progeny of clones pose no additional food consumption risk(s) relative to corresponding products from other animals based on underlying biological assumptions, evidence from model systems, and consistent empirical observations.


Most biologists will be unsurprised by these conclusions. Opponents of food derived from genetically modified organisms or clones will likely be disappointed at the absence of scientific data pointing to a Frankenfood smoking gun. However, courtesy of cloned cows, patrons of Abe & Louis' may soon be able order steaks as specific and reproducible as vintage wines.

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