The US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday said food produced from cloned animals was safe to eat, removing a major regulatory hurdle to eventually selling meat and milk produced by the controversial method.
The decision comes after a seven-year review and is the agency's final report after it had said in December 2006 that it was likely to declare the food safe over objections from lawmakers and advocacy groups.
"We conclude that meat and milk from cattle, swine, and goat clones are as safe as food we eat every day," Stephen F Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said. "Our additional review strengthens our conclusions on food safety."
A voluntary moratorium on selling meat from cloned animals will remain in place, while the US Department of Agriculture works with technology providers, producers, processors, retailers and domestic and international customers to create guidelines for selling meat and milk from clones.
But even after all the details are worked out, consumers are unlikely to eat any cloned animals, the department says, noting only about 600 such animals exist, are costly and are likely to be used for breeding rather than slaughter.
The FDA did not determine whether food from other cloned animals, such as sheep, was safe and continued to recommend they not be consumed.
Consumers have been worried about the safety of potential food from cloned animals since Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal, was born in 1997. Animal rights advocates also point to concerns about the health of cloned animals.
Some farmers expressed concern Tuesday that the government move would benefit large companies that control cloned animals at the expensive of small, independent operations.
ViaGen, a cloning firm, applauded the move, calling it "the most extensive food safety review in FDA's history." It pledged to track cloned animals to ensure they are used for breeding only, and do not inadvertently enter the food supply directly.
Non-profit consumer advocacy group The Center for Food Safety decried the move as going over the head of Congress, which had sought to delay the report pending further study.
"The FDA's cavalier approach to cloned food and its potential impacts calls for the remedy of a truly rigorous scientific assessment, and Congress has now repeatedly called for such action," the center's legal director Joseph Mendelson said. ( Dpa )