In a pilot study, scientists have shown that meat and milk from cloned bulls and cows, respectively, meet industry standards.
The study is the first to examine specific proteins and nutrients in the milk and meat from somatic cloned animals filling an important gap in the scientific literature that may lead to regulatory approval of clone-derived food.
Xiangzhong Yang, animal science professor and director of the University of Connecticut's Center for Regenerative Biology (CRB), and colleagues cloned a Japanese Black beef bull and Holstein dairy cow, using somatic cell nuclear transfer (the same technique used to clone the sheep Dolly). The researchers compared the meat and milk from the clones to that of animals of similar age, genetics, and breed created through natural reproduction.
The UConn/CBDI study comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is poised to rule on whether to allow food from cloned livestock to be sold for human consumption.
"The data generated from our match-controlled experiments provide new science-based information desired by regulatory agencies to address public concerns about the safety of meat and milk from somatic animal clones," notes Dr. Yang. "Information on the composition of meat and milk from somatic clones of food animals is extremely limited and highly desired."
Analysis of protein, fat, and other variables routinely assessed by the dairy industry revealed no significant differences in the milk. The researchers also examined more than 100 meat quality criteria, of which 90% showed no noteworthy variations. But about 8 variables related to the amount of fat and fatty acids in the meat were significantly higher in the meat from the clones. The authors say these higher fat levels are within beef industry standards.
Animal food products from clones have yet to enter the food chain in any country, and this report lays groundwork for larger, more conclusive studies with cloned animals.
Dairy farmers and livestock breeders have long embraced advanced reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer in their quest to efficiently produce higher quality milk and beef. They see cloning as another tool to make copies of cattle with highest quality beef or best milk capacity.
Providing a cautionary note, Dr. Yang notes that this study was conducted with a relatively small number of diary and beef clones and the clones of each breed were derived from a single genetic source.
"The experiments presented here," he says, "are a pilot study to provide guidelines for more conclusive studies with larger numbers of clones from different genetic backgrounds, in order to further increase the consumers' confidence concerning product safety of somatic cloned food animals."