Meat and dairy products from cloned animals could be available in grocery stores as early as 2003, thanks to a recent report on their safety.

The report, released by the National Academy of Sciences in late August, concluded that food from cloned farm animals should be considered safe as long as it doesn’t involve genetic manipulation — if the animals being cloned produced safe food then offspring containing identical genes should as well.

If no findings contradict the report, neither the Food and Drug Administration nor any other government body will have the legal power to keep food from cloned animals off store shelves.

Products ready to go

Some farmers and companies already have products waiting. Cloning of prized cows and pigs has become increasingly common over the past few years. Only a moratorium by the FDA, which is reviewing food products from cloned animals, prevented product sales to date.

The FDA aims to produce a draft report by year’s end, but this will require review by the Bush administration. Judging by actions in other countries — a recent Japanese study found cloned meat and milk safe, leading to an almost certain removal of a ban there on cloned products — the review shouldn’t overturn the NAS’ verdict.

If it does, the most likely reason will probably be the welfare of cloned animals and their surrogate mothers. The current imperfect cloning process leads to many dead or deformed offspring and causes distress to surrogates.

For this reason and the current high cost of cloning, any initial product launch will probably be small. It will most likely begin with milk from cloned cows next year and pork by 2004 or 2005.

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