LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain's food watchdog said it had found that meat from the offspring of a cloned cow had entered the UK food chain and had been eaten, stirring controversy over whether such products are ethical.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said that under European rules, suppliers are supposed to obtain a license before selling products from cloned animals but added there was no suggestion they posed any health danger to consumers.
"While there is no evidence that consuming products from healthy clones, or their offspring, poses a food safety risk, meat and products from (them) are considered novel foods and would therefore need to be authorized before being placed on the market," the FSA said.
It had traced two bulls born in Britain which began life as embryos harvested from a cloned cow in the United States, and one was slaughtered in July last year.
"Meat from this animal entered the food chain and will have been eaten," the agency said.
The second bull was slaughtered last month and action was taken before its meat entered the food chain.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2008 approved the sale of food from clones and their offspring, stating the products were indistinguishable from those of non-cloned animals.
However, the European parliament voted recently to exclude food from cloned animals from a list of approved products. A novel food application must be made before it can be sold.
The FSA said it was also continuing an investigation into reports milk from the offspring of cloned animals had entered the food chain in Britain.
It had found the offspring of a cloned cow which was believed to be part of a dairy herd, but had no evidence its milk had entered the food chain.
News of the probe has attracted widespread media coverage with food campaigners saying it raised a number of issues.
"Cloning involves applying invasive and cruel techniques on the surrogate mothers that are used for producing the clones," said Emma Hockridge, Head of Policy at the Soil Association.
She said cloning also raised worries about the safety of meat and dairy products and the spread of diseases, "as well as concerns about the ethics of cloning."
However, Brendan Curran, a geneticist from Queen Mary, University of London, said FDA tests had found no evidence that meat and milk from cloned animals or their offspring was any different from traditionally reproduced livestock.
"They have concluded therefore that it is safe for humans to consume produce from such animals," he said. "There is no reason why the situation should be any different in the UK."
Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, Head of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research, said he expected most consumed bananas were clones.
"I am not going to say that this story is bananas, as there could be some other issues, such as whether or not FSA and EU regulations have been complied with, and about the welfare of the cows used to make the clones and the cloned cows themselves, he said.
"I suspect the latter were very well looked after as they are valuable. As Abbie Hoffmann said: sacred cows make the tastiest hamburger."
Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris; editing by Steve Addison