January 12/London/The Daily Telegraph -- Bacon, beef and milk produced from cloned animals moved a step closer for British consumers yesterday when Europe's official food watchdog concluded that they pose no risk to consumers.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said that cloned pigs, cows and their products were as healthy as natural-born animals.

It also said meat and milk from healthy cloned pigs and cattle are of similar nutritional value to products from the animals bred normally.

"In view of these findings, and assuming that unhealthy clones are removed from entering the food chain, as is the case with conventionally bred animals, it is very unlikely that any difference exists in terms of food safety between food products originating from clones and their progeny compared with those derived from conventionally bred animals," it concluded.

Because cloned animals are so expensive they will be used mostly for breeding, while almost all the food affected by the process will come from the offspring of cloned beasts.

The EFSA draft report marks Europe's first big scientific assessment of the highly-charged issue, and its conclusions mean a potential barrier to the sale of food products from cloned animals has been cleared.

Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that cloned livestock were "virtually indistinguishable" from conventional livestock, and it is expected to rule soon that meat from the offspring of cloned animals can be sold in America.

The Food Standards Agency said Britons would not be eating cloned food "for a few years, if at all" with the marketing of food from cloned animals and their offspring, subject to European Union-wide regulations on novel foods.

For food from cloned animals or their offspring to be sold in Britain or another European country, the move would have to be agreed through qualified majority voting, the FSA said.

It adds that it will be "considering the food safety aspects of this report very carefully and will provide comments to EFSA, to help ensure that it reaches conclusions that are based on sound science."

The EFSA opinion will now go out to public consultation. Responses can be submitted by February 25. The EFSA's revised opinion is expected to be published in May and will help inform any decisions about measures by the European Commission and the European Parliament in relation to animal clones and products obtained from these animals.

The authority estimates that in the EU there are about 100 cattle clones and fewer pig clones. Worldwide, there are thought to be fewer than 4,000 cloned cattle and fewer than 1,500 cloned pigs.

The main issue, it says, is one of animal welfare because death and disease rates are significantly higher among cloned animals. Cloning is not carried out commercially in the EU at present, so the prospect of eating cloned produce appears some years away yet, according to experts.

The FSA said, "Cloned animals are very expensive, and it is not them but their offspring (or offspring of their offspring) that might end up on livestock farms.

"In the case of cattle, there would be a gap of four to five years from the birth of a clone to its offspring being ready to provide milk or meat for human consumption."

From the January 21, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash