Karen Robinson-Jacobs, The Dallas Morning News

Feb. 23--Dean Foods Co. said Thursday it won't purchase milk from cloned cows -- a decision from the nation's largest dairy producer that could put a damper on the commercial viability of such products in the United States.

"Based on the desire of our customers and consumers, Dean Foods will not accept milk from cows that have been cloned," according to a Dean statement that was first made public Thursday on a food-oriented blog and was later confirmed by the Dallas-based dairy giant.

"If the FDA does approve the sale of milk from cloned cows," the statement said, "we will work with our dairy farmers to implement protocols to ensure that the milk they supply to Dean Foods does not come from cloned cows."

Dean sells milk and other dairy products under a variety of store labels, as well as its own brands. The company also owns White Wave Foods, which sells Horizon Organic milk, the best-selling organic milk line, and Silk, the leading refrigerated soy milk.

In late December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a "draft risk assessment" stating that meat and milk from clones of adult cattle, hogs and goats, and their offspring "are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals."

The agency is still seeking comments from the public and will evaluate them before writing a final policy statement, expected by late spring. But regardless of the action the agency takes, consumer pressure may settle the matter.

"With the largest company saying they're not going to play, it puts a damper on the prospects for cloning, regardless of what the government says," said Sam Fromartz, editor of Chewswise .com, the Web site that posted the internal document.

"If they say they're not going to take it, the farmers can't use those cows. I think it's going to really limit the prospects for milk from cloned cows."

Dean made the policy decision because "all the studies that have been done with consumers show that they are not in favor of it," said Amy Barker, a company spokeswoman. "So it's in response to the needs and preferences of our consumers."

She said she could not speculate on what impact the company's move will have on the cloning industry.

But at least one consumer watchdog group is banking that Dean won't be alone.

"I think it's a really strong signal," said Charles Margulis, a spokesman for the nonprofit Center for Food Safety. "I expect other dairies will follow."

The few companies involved in cloning have agreed to abide by an FDA request to keep food and milk off the market until the agency officially weighs in.

Austin-based ViaGen is a leader in the cloning industry but does not clone dairy cows, a spokeswoman said.

But Dean's decision could have a large impact on Cyagra Inc., a livestock cloning company based in Elizabethtown, Pa., that has worked with dairy cows.

"At the present time, we're not making any comments until the FDA completes its risk assessment and makes its decision," said Steve A. Mower, the company's director of marketing. "They need to do their thing."

The FDA's December statement was considered the government's strongest to date on the topic.

"We looked at the composition of the food [from cloned animals] and found there was nothing different about the food, so we concluded that the food from clones was as safe as food we eat from any other animal," said Dr. Larisa Rudenko, senior adviser for biotechnology at the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.

The FDA is not planning to require labeling of meat from a cloned animal but does plan to issue guidance to the industry.
February 23, 2007