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August 2010 Updates

Clone-derived Meat Entered UK Food Chain Last Year, Says FSA

By James Meikle and Leigh Phillips
The Guardian
August 3, 2010

Meat from second clone offspring was intercepted before it could be sold, and third animal found in dairy herd

Meat from the offspring of a cloned cow entered the UK food chain a year ago, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) revealed today, in the first official confirmation of a breach of food laws.

A second bull born from an embryo taken from a cloned cow was slaughtered last week, but the meat was intercepted before it could be sold. The agency has found another cloned offspring in a dairy herd.

It said there was no evidence that consuming food from healthy clones or their offspring posed a risk, but its sale had not been authorised under legislation on 'novel foods'.

However, there was confusion when officials from the European commission said the FSA was wrong in its interpretation of the EU regulations, and that offspring of cloned animals were not covered.

A commission official said at a briefing in Brussels: "There could be lots of milk from the offspring of cloned animals in Europe as there is no need to notify the authorities over this. We have no figures on this."

However, the agency insisted that it was sticking by its interpretation.

The revelation by the FSA comes amid unverified claims that a British farmer was selliing milk from a cow bred from a clone and allegations that more than 100 cattle have been bred from clones in Britain.

The FSA said it had traced two bulls born in the UK from embryos harvested from a cloned cow in the US.

"Both of these bulls have been slaughtered. The first, Dundee Paratrooper, was born in December 2006 and was slaughtered in July 2009. Meat from this animal entered the food chain and will have been eaten. The second, Dundee Perfect, was born in March 2007 and was slaughtered on 27 July 2010. Meat from this animal has been stopped from entering the food chain."

It added: "The agency is continuing its work on tracing the offspring of clones claimed to produce milk for the UK dairy industry. We have traced a single animal, Dundee Paradise, which is believed to be part of a dairy herd but at present we cannot confirm that milk from this animal has entered the food chain. As part of this investigation local authority officials are visiting the farm on which this herd is kept."

The agency declined to give any further details of the animals it had traced, nor their owners or the farms they were on. But it went on: "The agency would like to remind food business operators of their responsibility to ensure food they produce is compliant with the law.

"In order to produce food products from clones or their offspring, a novel food application must be submitted and authorisation granted at a European level before any such food is placed on the market. The FSA is the UK authority responsible for accepting novel food applications. The penalty for failing to comply with the Novel Foods Regulations is a fine of up to £5,000."

The revelation will be used by critics as an example of how food laws are failing to keep up with developments in breeding technology. Food derived from clones can be legally sold in the US but no applications have been made for similar moves in Europe.

Embryos from cattle cloned in the US began being imported into Britain three years ago but no official checks have been kept on their offspring. The European parliament called last month for a definitive ban on clone-derived food. The commission and council of ministers will now be under severe pressure to quickly consider the plea.


GM Crop Escapes into the American Wild

By Natasha Gilbert
Nature News
August 6, 2010

Transgenic canola found growing freely in North Dakota.

A genetically modified (GM) crop has been found thriving in the wild for the first time in the United States. Transgenic canola is growing freely in parts of North Dakota, researchers told the Ecological Society of America conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, today.

The scientists behind the discovery say this highlights a lack of proper monitoring and control of GM crops in the United States.

US farmers have dramatically increased their use of GM crops since the plants were introduced in the early 1990s. Last year, nearly half the world's transgenic crops were grown in US soil - Brazil, the world's second heaviest user, grew just 16%. GM crops have broken free from cultivated land in several countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan, but they have not previously been found in uncultivated land in the United States.

"The extent of the escape is unprecedented," says Cynthia Sagers, an ecologist at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, who led the research team that found the canola (Brassica napus, also known as rapeseed).

Sagers and her team found two varieties of transgenic canola in the wild - one modified to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide (glyphosate), and one resistant to Bayer Crop Science's Liberty herbicide (gluphosinate). They also found some plants that were resistant to both herbicides, showing that the different GM plants had bred to produce a plant with a new trait that did not exist anywhere else.

Sagers says the previous discoveries in other countries of transgenic canola populations growing outside of cultivation were often in or near fields used for commercial transgenic canola production. By contrast, her research team found feral populations of herbicide-resistant canola growing along roads, near petrol stations and grocery stores, often at large distances from areas of agricultural production.

The researchers took samples of plants at 8-kilometre intervals along roads in North Dakota from 4 June to 23 July 2010. The number of B. napus plants in each sample plot was counted, and one plant was collected and tested for the presence of proteins that could give it resistance to either of the herbicides.

The team found B. napus at nearly half of the 288 sites tested. Of these, 80% had at least one herbicide-resistant transgene (41% were resistant to Roundup and 40% resistant to Liberty). They also found two plants that contained both transgenes.

Feral generations

Sagers says the discovery of plants that are resistant to both herbicides shows that "these feral populations of canola have been part of the landscape for several generations". Further studies are needed to establish whether these escaped GM canola plants have any ecological consequences. But those that have evolved resistance to both herbicides could become a weed problem for farmers, adds Sagers.

"The regulatory protocols designed to reduce or prevent escape and proliferation of feral transgenic crops are ineffective. Current tracking and monitoring of GM organisms are insufficient," she says. Sagers blames the delay in discovering escaped populations of transgenic plants in the United States largely on the lack of funding for research in this area.

Tom Nickson, head of environmental policy at Monsanto in St Louis, Missouri, told Nature, "Those familiar with canola know that these plants are readily found on roadsides and in areas near farmers' fields. This was true prior to the introduction of GM canola, and a common source is seed that has scattered during harvest and fallen off a truck during transport."

Sagers agrees that feral populations could have become established after trucks carrying cultivated GM seeds spilled some of their load during transportation. She notes that the frequency and population density of GM canola that they found may be biased as they only sampled along roadsides.

Alison Snow, an ecologist at Ohio State University in Columbus, says it is not surprising that escaped transgenic plants have now been found in the United States, given that this has already happened elsewhere. The escaped populations "could be a problem if you are worried about herbicide use", she says. A major advantages of herbicide-resistant crops is that non-selective herbicides can be used, reducing the number of applications needed. But if transgenic crops escape and breed with related weed species, then that advantage could be eroded, and different and more herbicides might have to be used.


U.S. Unsure if Cloned Meat Has Been Sold in North America

By Sarah Schmidt
Postmedia News
August 10, 2010

OTTAWA - The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture on Tuesday said he doesn't know whether cloned cows or their offspring have made it into the North American food supply.

But Tom Vilsack, in Ottawa to talk trade with food exporters and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, emphasized that if they have, the animals are safe to eat.

"I can't say today that I can answer your question in an affirmative or negative way. I don't know. What I do know is that we know all the research, all of the review of this is suggested that this is safe," Vilsack told reporters, pointing to an assessment of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Vislack said that because science is often "ahead of the regulatory process and ahead of the ethics discussion," the U.S. will continue their "moratorium" on not allowing the sale of meat from cloned animals until the products are widely accepted as safe.

Vilsack's comments come a week after the U.K. Food Standards Agency told consumers in that country that descendants of a clone made their way into the local food supply. The cattle were the offspring of a cloned cow in the U.S. and were shipped to the U.K. as embryos.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is investigating a claim that embryos from a cow bred from a cloned parent animal in Britain have been sold to breeders in Canada.

A spokesman for Ritz said there are no products derived from cloned animals approved for sale in Canada, and CFIA would inform the minister if the agency found evidence that food regulations had been violated.

"To date, this has not happened," said Matthew Wolf.

Two years ago, the U.S. FDA concluded that cloned pigs, goats and cattle were safe to eat, as were their progeny. However, the European Parliament recently moved to ban the sale of meat or dairy from cloned animals and their offspring.

In Canada, the departments of agriculture, health and environment, along with CFIA, produced a draft assessment of the safety of cloned animals in August 2008, but it is still in the review stage.

Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, says "this whole issue of genetically-engineered animals is huge," but the government appears unperturbed by the sector's growth and the potential for entering the food chain.

"If experimental, non-regulated, genetically-engineered animals or crops get into the food system, they don't necessarily care unless the public makes it an issue. That's our experience," said Sharratt.


Cattle 'Cloned from Dead Animals'

By Pallab Ghosh
BBC News
August 12, 2010

Some of the cattle cloned to boost food production in the US have been created from the cells of dead animals, according to a US cloning company.

Farmers say it is being done because it is only possible to tell that the animal's meat is of exceptionally high quality by inspecting its carcass.

US scientists are using a variety of techniques to assess which animals have exceptional qualities.

These attributes include meat quality, productivity or longevity.

These exceptional animals are cloned to be used as breeding stock, with the aim of raising the quality of herds on beef, dairy and pig farms in the US.

There is a long tradition of resurrecting dead animals for cloning - Dolly the sheep being a case in point.

The head of the leading US animal cloning company has said that European farmers will fall behind the rest of the world unless they are allowed to use such techniques to improve the productivity of their livestock.

The aim of livestock cloning is to clone the best animals to produce the best beef.

But some cattle farmers believe it is impossible to pick the best quality animals until their meat has been properly analysed.

That is why there are cloned bulls here that have been produced from the cells taken from the carcasses of dead animals.

Brady Hicks of the JR Simplot company in Idaho said his organisation was among many that had tried out the technique successfully.

"The animals are hanging on a rail ready to go to the meat counter," he told BBC News.

"We identify carcasses that have certain carcass characteristics that we want, but it's too late to reproduce the genetics of the animal. But through cloning we can resurrect that animal."

These "resurrected" animals are then bred with naturally born cows. The next step is to see if their offspring - whose meat can be sold to consumers in the US - have the same qualities as the grandparent from which the cells were originally taken.

Ranchers at the Simplot company also clone from live animals that are particularly productive or fertile.

The driving force behind the project is the head of the company, Scott Simplot, who firmly believes that cloning can be used to improve beef production. His stated aim is to raise the standard of the great American steak.

"The notion behind what we are doing is to find that animal that created that great steak - and once we have it, we want to reproduce it," he said.

"So (if we are successful), every time we have a steak at a restaurant it will have that memorable taste."

But the idea is not to everyone's taste. The leading whole food chain in the US, Whole Foods Market, has banned the sale of products of cloning.

According to its global vice-president, Margaret Wittenberg, although meat and milk from cloned animals has been allowed to go on sale in the US, most Americans have never heard of it.

"A lot of customers in the United States are oblivious of it," she said.

"You don't hear about it in the media. And when you do tell people about it they look at you and say 'you're kidding! They're not doing that are they? Why would they?'"

Ban bid

Mark Walton, president of the leading US animal cloning company, ViaGen, says livestock farmers have a very good reason to use his services.

He says scientists in many countries are trying to find ways of using the technology to boost production and quality.

Cloning is not used by livestock farmers in Europe, and there are moves by some members of the European Parliament to ban it altogether. Mr Walton believes that would be a mistake.

"If I were a European farmer and my competitors in the US, China and South America were using the technology, I'd be concerned about losing all access to it," he said.

It is early days for cloning in US agriculture. There are only a thousand clones in the one hundred million-strong American cattle herd.

The idea is to pick the best animals and use them to breed from. ViaGen charges cattle farmers $17,000 to clone an animal. Cloned bulls There are only a thousand clones in the one hundred million-strong US cattle herd

It would cost them around $4,000 to buy a high quality bull to breed from. So for cloning to be worthwhile, the technology has to produce animals that are substantially better than the ones that can be obtained via traditional methods.

At the moment, the technique is at an experimental phase. Beef, pig and dairy farmers are all trying to establish whether cloning is an economic proposition.

Two years ago, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that meat and milk from cloned animals were safe to eat. Ever since then, products from the offspring of cloned animals have entered the food chain

Supporters of the technology say that costs will come down - and as farmers become better able to identify their exceptional animals, cloning technology will begin to pay big dividends.

Mark Walton believes that the use of cloning in agriculture will eventually become the norm - not just in the US but across the world.

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