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Cloned Beef: It's What's for Dinner?

Meat and milk from cloned cows, pigs and goats are just as safe as food from conventionally bred animals. That was the conclusion released Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in a 900-plus-page safety report.

After six years of intensive research on whether meat, muscle tissue and milk from cloned animals are fit for human consumption, the FDA says they "are as safe as food we eat every day."

The stamp of approval from the FDA removes the last regulatory hurdle to mass-marketing cloned meat and milk products.

In late 2006, the FDA released a draft of its "animal clone safety assessment," which reached the same conclusion. But a final decision was delayed by strong resistance from food safety and animal rights groups, as well as the U.S. dairy industry, which fears public aversion to cloning for consumption could hurt their image and their profits.

In December 2007, Congress passed a farm bill that included a measure requiring the FDA to delay its final ruling until further studies and an assessment of the possible domestic and foreign trade implications were completed.

U.S. producers were waiting for the FDA decision, too. They agreed back in 2001 to hold off on introducing products by cloned animals into the food supply until the FDA completed the safety report.

Even now that cloned products have the FDA stamp of approval, it remains unlikely they'll hit supermarket shelves anytime soon. Public distrust of so-called Frankenfoods and the high cost of cloning animals for food production will likely keep them out of stores for the next few years.

In the meantime, the FDA is asking cloning companies like ViaGen Inc. and Trans Ova Genetics to continue the moratorium on cloning animals for food until consumers can adjust to the idea of eating meat that started in a Petri dish. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also called for a hold on the distribution of cloned animal foods for the time being, pending consultations on how they will be introduced into the market.

When the engineered products do hit shelves, the food probably won't come directly from a cloned animal. Those beasts are more likely to be used as high-quality breeding stock. But the offspring of a cloned cow could certainly end up on your bun.

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