How Safe is Cloned Meat?

| 28/01/2008 | Reply

SO they say it is safe.

But
if you found that the steak on your plate and that glass of milk are
from a cloned animal, would you eat that juicy red steak and drink the
milk? Recently, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) – the
European Union’s food safety agency – published a draft opinion which
gave the greenlight for consumption of cloned animal products.

Despite
having limited data, the report declared that meat and milk obtained
from healthy cattle and pig clones and their offsprings are within the
normal range with respect to the composition and nutritional value of
similar products obtained from conventionally-bred animals.

“In
view of these findings, assuming that unhealthy clones are prevented
from entering the food chain as is the case with conventionally-bred
animals, it is very unlikely that any difference exists in terms of
food safety,” it said.

The
US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has also approved meat and milk
from clones for consumption despite protests from the public, and the
Washington-based non-profit public interest organisation, Center for
Food Safety.

Animal
cloning received worldwide attention in July 1996 with the birth of a
female sheep named Dolly, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell.
Though experts predicted she would have a life expectancy of between 12
to 15 years, Dolly died at the age of six due to a common sheep disease.

Following the successful process, other mammals such as cows, horses, pigs and even a cat were cloned.

On
Jan 17, the New York Times carried an article in which the European
Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies warned that the
negative effects were grave enough that cloned products should be kept
off the shelves.

The EFSA had opened a consultation process with member states and industry before giving its final opinion in May.

In
Malaysia, the ethical and religious issues of animal cloning itself
remain a question mark. However, according to Perak Mufti Datuk Seri
Harussani Zakaria, as long as the cloned animal is in accordance with
Islamic principles and techniques, it can be eaten.

“If
the animal is cloned from another animal which is halal for Muslim
consumption such as cows or goats, it can be eaten, even though it was
not conventionally bred,” he said. The most famous misconception on
animal cloning is that it involves the modification of genes.

Clones are actually exact biological copies of normal animals, identical twins of sorts.

Malaysian
Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC) executive director
Mahaletchumy Arujanan confirms that cloning does not involve genetic
modifications.

“Though
in some cases, cloned animals could be subjected to modification of its
genetic makeup to incorporate valuable traits,” she added.

Traits
such as taste, tender, less fatty meat and disease-resistant animals
are more consumer friendly, though it is unlikely that your steak will
come from cloned cows anytime soon, thanks to the high cost of cloning
itself.

Cloning a single cow can cost up to US$20,000 (RM65,560), so it is primarily used for breeding.

Chances are the products will come from their offspring.

Moreover, Malaysia has yet to lift the ban on meat imports from the EU because of the mad cow disease incident a few years ago.

The disease is still prevalent there, said a senior officer from the Health Ministry’s Food Safety and Quality Division.

“However,
the ban on imports from the US was lifted, provided the meat comes from
abattoirs that had already been inspected and certified as halal.” He
did not exclude the possibility of cloned meat and dairy products
entering the Malaysian market via the US due to the lifting of the ban.

Cloned meat could also slip in via countries from which Malaysia imports its meat.

“As
far as I know, we have not conducted any study on the safety of cloned
meat because it is not available locally. Therefore, we rely on the
findings by the scientists and researchers in the US.

“Cloned
meat can also be genetically modified, and any decision to import
genetically modified products will only be made by the Genetic
Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC). Food that contains genetically
manipulated materials is required to bear labels stating its contents,”
said the officer.

This
is to satisfy Malaysia’s multiracial society’s need for knowing what
they are engaged with and in this case, not a conventional food source.

“We
term this as ‘informed choice’. So Muslims, Hindus and vegetarians
would know the status whether there are animal components in their
food, and for Muslims, whether it contains any porcine properties.”
Malaysian Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister, Tan Sri
Muhyiddin Yassin said any meat imports will require quarantine approval
and certification.

Similarly,
meat from cloned or GMO animal will also be subjected to quarantine
approval and certification to be issued by the Veterinary Service
Department.

“Since
meat from cloned or GMO animal are food products which are to be
regulated under the new National Biosafety Act 2007, food safety
assessment will need to be conducted and regulatory approval be
obtained before it is allowed into the Malaysian market,” said
Muhyiddin.

“Therefore,
the decision by the EU will not have much effect on Malaysia.” The
reluctance to allow cloned products into the market is also enforced in
Japan, according to a Reuters news agency report.

Though
Japan is one of the countries with livestock clones, Japanese consumers
“were almost certain to be slow in accepting cloned meat, given their
conservative palates,” according to the article.

Mahaletchumy
said the main issues will be concerns on safety for humans,
environmental impact, ethical, social and religious aspects.

“Activists
will certainly oppose the commercialisation of these products. Besides,
approval of new products and consumer acceptance are two different
things. Should it happen, though, consumers can choose between the
conventional and the cloned.”

“If
the benefits of food derived from cloned animals outweigh other
concerns, then the products should be allowed to be marketed and
research in this area encouraged.”

In
the absence of data to support safety claims, such products should not
be allowed to enter the market, said Lim Li Ching of Third World
Network, a non-profit organisation which promotes research on
biosafety, among other things, through its website, Biosafety
Information Centre.

“The
precautionary principle should apply. There is very little scientific
study done, and they have not addressed concerns on the safety aspects,
moral and ethical issues,”she wrote.

K.
Nagulendran, a senior officer in the Natural Resources and Environment
Ministry, said even if the science is fine, there is an ongoing debate
between ethical and commercial interests when it comes to animal
cloning.

Category: Europe, Halal Integrity, Meat & Poultry

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