Meat and milk from cloned animals is probably safe for humans, the European Union's food safety agency said in a preliminary report released Friday. The report, by the European Food Safety Authority, seems likely to fuel new debate over whether the EU should allow cloned animals to enter the food chain.
The 47-page draft cautioned, however, that there was "only limited data available" on animal cloning. It urged consultation with scientists and consumer groups, which have in the past objected to allowing such products onto the market.
The EU's Food Safety Authority, which is based in Italy, was directed by the EU's executive office in Brussels last year to investigate what risks were involved in making projects for human consumption from cloned animals.
The 27-nation union currently has no laws regulating animal cloning and food. The European Commission is trying to decide whether legislation is needed, said Nina Papadoulaki, spokeswoman for EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou.
"Based on current knowledge, there is no expectation that clones or their progeny would introduce any new food safety risks compared with conventionally bred animals," the preliminary report said.
Papadoulaki said the commission hoped the report would help EU officials determine whether there is public support for allowing cloned food onto supermarket shelves.
She said the commission would seek further advice from an ethics group specializing in science and new technologies, which includes 15 scientists, philosophers, theologians and lawyers.
That group is scheduled to issue its own report on the "ethical aspects of animal cloning for food supply" on Jan. 16.
Some countries outside the EU are moving to permit cloned animals to enter the food chain.
The United States is expected to allow food from cloned animals onto the market sometime this year. A poll conducted in 2006 found, however, that 64 percent of Americans were uncomfortable with animal cloning.
The issue is also under review in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada.
Scientists across Europe have for years investigated different animal cloning techniques. The most famous example was the cloning of Dolly the sheep in Britain. Dolly was euthanized in 2003 after she contracted a common livestock disease and her cells showed signs of premature aging.
Italian scientists cloned a racehorse in 2005, hoping to pass on genetic lines of champion thoroughbreds.