The decision that "meat and milk from clones and their offspring are as safe as food we eat every single day" comes after a five-year study of cloned livestock by the FDA.
The FDA is reluctant to put a special label on products from clones because scientists say there is no difference between it and products from traditional livestock. However, the public and other interested parties have three months to offer their feedback on the plan before the FDA makes a final ruling.
Although about 150 cloned cattle already exist in the United States, the FDA is continuing to ask clone producers and livestock breeders "to voluntarily refrain from introducing food products from these animals into commerce."
To produce a clone, the nucleus of a donor egg is removed and replaced with the DNA of a cow, pig or other animal. The embryo is then deposited into a pre-screened surrogate mother.
Exceptional livestock, such as pigs that fatten rapidly or cows that produce large quantities of milk, would be targeted for DNA copying.
"It's not a genetically engineered animal; no genes have been changed or moved or deleted," Barb Glenn of the Biotechnology Industry Organization told the Associated Press. "It's simply a genetic twin that we can then use for future matings to improve the overall health and well-being of the herd."
Although advocates emphasize that most clones would be used for mating purposes and not for direct consumption, they concede cloned animals who have outlived their usefulness could wind up at a hamburger plant, as is the current practice with traditional livestock.
Some public opinion surveys reveal consumers appear wary of food from cloned animals. A September poll by the nonpartisan Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology found that 64 percent were uncomfortable with eating such products. More than half of the participants in a survey by the International Food Information Council said they were unlikely to buy food from a cloned animal.
Additionally, some consumer groups have expressed concern over the widespread use of clones and in not labeling products that come from cloned animals. Cloning results in more deaths and deformed animals than other reproductive technologies, Carol Tucker Foreman, director of food policy at the Consumer Research Federation, told the AP. Her group will ask supermarkets to refrain from selling such products.
"Meat and milk from cloned animals have no benefit for consumers, and consumers don't want them in their food," Foreman said.