The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has announced that meat from cloned animals is safe for human consumption.
The FDA says seven years of detailed study and analysis have shown that meat and milk from cloned animals are as safe as food from conventionally bred animals.
The advice applies to meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs and goats.
The FDA says insufficient information was available to enable a conclusion on the safety of food from clones of other animal species, such as sheep.
The FDA has issued three documents on animal cloning outlining the agency's regulatory approach - a risk assessment; a risk management plan; and guidance for industry which were released in draft form in December 2006.
Since then the agency says the risk assessment has been updated to include new scientific information which reinforces the food safety conclusions of the drafts.
An agreement in 2001 with the industry meant the meat or milk from clones or their progeny would not be introduced onto the market until safety could be evaluated.
The next step will involve discussions between the U.S. Department of Agriculture with industry stakeholders.
The FDA is not demanding that such produce should be labelled accordingly as they say food derived from these sources is no different from food derived from conventionally bred animals.
As clones will be used for breeding their meat or milk would not be expected to enter the food supply in any significant amount; but their sexually reproduced offspring would be used for producing meat and milk for the marketplace.
The United States has an estimated 570 cloned animals but it could take four or five years before consumers are able to buy clone-based products.
According to the FDA an animal clone is a genetic copy of a donor animal, similar to an identical twin, but born at a different time and cloning differs from genetic engineering, which involves altering, adding or deleting DNA; cloning does not change the gene sequence of the creature.
Cloning is a costly and rare process and cloned animals are usually duplicates of superior animals that have already proved their ability to breed and produce higher-quality animals, with high quality meat and milk.
A clone can cost a buyer at least $16,000 and clones are intended to be used as elite breeding animals which will introduce desirable traits into herds more rapidly than would be possible using conventional breeding.
The FDA says it's conclusions are based on scientific data and expert scientific opinion.
While science appears to support the cloning industry, the technology remains a controversial issue and critics believe more research is needed before it is concluded that products from cloned animals are safe.
Some scientists suggest that the studies the FDA has reviewed only examine such basic factors as fat and protein content in clones, rather than more complex factors such as the composition of fatty acids in meats or the hormones in milk.
Many experts also suspect that the offspring produced from clones have already entered the food system.
Objections have also been raised on moral and religious grounds and the consumer group, the Center for Food Safety apparently filed a legal petition in 2006 with the FDA demanding that cloned animals should be assessed with the same rigor as drugs, as they are produced unnaturally.
The consumer group says the FDA's decision is based on an incomplete and flawed research supported by cloning companies.
Congress is reportedly already working on legislation that could stall cloned foods from appearing on shelves.
However countries such as Australia and Argentina will possibly follow the U.S. as will Europe with regard to products from cloned animals.
The European Food Safety Authority, which exercises similar watchdog powers, has also recently recommended that meat and milk from cloned animals is safe for humans and should be allowed onto the market and a final decision will be made later this year.
For more information, visit http://www.fda.gov/cvm/cloning.htm.