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19-08-2010 - Milk from cloned cow's offspring – experts respond Milk from cloned cow's offspring – experts respond

The UK's Food Standards Agency is investigating claims that milk from the offspring of a cloned cow is on sale in British supermarkets, according to a statement released overnight. European Union rules on novel foods ensure no products from clones' offspring can be sold legally without a scientific assessment of safety. In New Zealand, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) advise that the cloning of livestock animals in Australasia is still in the experimental stages and is restricted to small numbers of elite breeding stock, predominantly dairy and beef cattle and small numbers of sheep. A FSANZ statement indicates that cloned animals produced in Australasia are currently confined to the research environment and do not enter the food chain. The following comments were gathered by our colleagues at the UK SMC. Contact us if you'd like help locating a New Zealand expert on this topic.

Prof Keith Campbell, Head of Animal Physiology at the University of Nottingham, said: "The production of animals by the technique of somatic cell nuclear transfer has many uses in the fields of agriculture and biomedicine. For example in agriculture it allows the multiplication of elite animals and facilitates dissemination of superior production traits into the population when integrated into a breeding program, the major aim of commercial farming. There is no scientific evidence that the products of so called 'cloned' animals or their offspring differ from non-cloned animals or present any danger to the public. "

Prof Grahame Bulfield, former director of the Roslin Institute when Dolly the sheep was cloned, said: "Given that the farmer wishes to remain 'anonymous', it is very difficult to evaluate this story so it should be taken with a pinch of salt. I don't know of any cloned animals in the UK so I would be very suspicious. "If it is true, it is important to remember two things First, cloned animals are not genetically modified in any way; they are the exact equivalent of identical twins. And second, the milk comes not from the clone itself but from its offspring, which are born naturally. This makes a nonsense of the FSA ruling that milk or meat from such offspring should be considered a 'novel food', and they have never provided a scientific basis for this. There's nothing novel about it, and you might as well say every new type of cereal should be treated with the same caution. "That said, I don't think there is much value in using cloned cattle to produce milk or meat. Although there is no reason to think that products from the offspring of cloned animals would pose any kind of a health risk, cloning is a very expensive procedure and so unlikely to catch on."

Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, Head of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research, said: "Cloning cattle has turned into a serious, although not particularly large business in several countries, notably the USA. It is used as a way to effectively copy individual dairy cows that give exceptionally high yields or bulls that are either themselves judged to be excellent for beef or that are able to sire offspring of high quality. In addition, using such a cloned animal in a breeding programme can increase the quality and yield of a herd of cattle. Perhaps it sounds paradoxical, but in theory, this could also be used to increase genetic diversity, by cloning rare breeds of cattle, many of which have special properties but are not very economical as isolated breeds, and crossing them with more common ones. "The production of the original clones might have some welfare issues, but a valuable animal is going to be looked after extremely well. Moreover, cattle cloning turns out to be more efficient than most other species, and the abnormalities that are frequently seen in other cloned animals are far less evident in cattle and sometimes absent altogether. Furthermore, the offspring of a cloned animal are always perfectly normal, and with cattle they will be just like any other cow or bull, although as special individuals they will be looked after with more care than others in the field. "There is no genetic modification. It was for this reason that the FDA has approved consumption of milk and beef from the offspring of cloned cattle - they are just normal animals, and I do not understand the EU position on this. Obviously the FSA have their rules and need to look into what has happened, but it is more likely to be the milk of kindness than a horror story."

Dr Brendan Curran, a geneticist from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary, University of London, said: "This type of cloning is an extension of the process by which identical twins arise in nature Therefore if you have a healthy cow that is producing milk, it will produce healthy milk. I would argue that once the animal has been certified by veterinary surgeons as a fit animal, I can't see how it would be in any way dangerous. "I could see an argument for the animal welfare people being concerned, but since these procedures have to be done under very strict conditions and in a compassionate way for the animal, this also shouldn't be a problem. After the animal has been born and grows to be an adult, it reproduces normally and does everything normally."
August 17, 2010

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