Europe establishes opinion on impact of cloning on food safety

Posted by Isobel Drake on 25th July 2008

EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) has today published its final scientific opinion on the implications of animal cloning on food safety, animal health and welfare and the environment. EFSA’s opinion follows a request from the European Commission (EC) to EFSA for advice on this issue in February 2007 and public consultation on a draft opinion earlier this year.

Prof. Vittorio Silano, chair of EFSA’s Scientific Committee, indicated that food safety issues did not apear prevalent. “It is clear there are significant animal health and welfare issues for surrogate mothers and clones that can be more frequent and severe than for conventionally bred animals. For cattle and pigs, food safety concerns are considered unlikely,” he advised. “No clear evidence has emerged to suggest any differences between food products from clones or their offspring, in terms of food safety, compared to products from conventionally bred animals. But we must acknowledge that the evidence base, while growing and showing consistent findings, is still small. That has been one of the challenges throughout this work.”

Some of the key conclusions of the opinion include:

* Uncertainties in the risk assessment arise due to the limited number of studies available, the small sample sizes investigated and, in general, the absence of a uniform approach that would allow all the issues relevant to this opinion to be more satisfactorily addressed. Only pigs and cattle are addressed in this opinion: the two species of animals where adequate data were available.
* The health and welfare of a significant proportion of clones, mainly within the juvenile period for cattle and perinatal period for pigs, have been found to be adversely affected, often severely and with a fatal outcome.
* Cloning has typically resulted in the production of healthy cattle and pig clones, and healthy offspring, that are similar to their conventional counterparts.
* There is no indication that differences exist in terms of food safety for meat and milk of clones and their progeny compared with those from conventionally bred animals. However, such a conclusion is based on the assumption that meat and milk are derived from healthy animals which are subject to relevant food safety regulations and controls.
* No environmental impact is foreseen but only limited research is available.

Prof. Silano added that there is no easy answer to the issue due to the current lack of conclusive evidence. “EFSA cannot always offer simple answers or reassurances,” he stated. “Complex and evolving science and technology, where data can be limited, do not offer such neat solutions. Our advice is guided by the science and will help inform consideration of any future EU measures in relation to animal clones and products obtained from these animals and their offspring.”