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Cloned Livestock Quietly Gain a Foothold in Europe

Albrighton, England - Many Europeans recoil at the very idea of cloning animals. But a handful of breeders in Switzerland, Britain and possibly other countries have imported semen and embryos from cloned animals or their progeny from the United States, seeking to create more consistently plump and productive livestock.

And although no vendor has publicly acknowledged it, meat or dairy products originating from such techniques are believed to be already on supermarket shelves.

The amounts are no doubt small, and the sale appears to be legal. But the development is noteworthy on a continent that has long objected to genetically modified crops and where many people look at animal cloning as potentially dangerous and cruel - even immoral.

"Although no safety concerns have been identified so far with meat produced from cloned animals, this technique raises serious issues about animal welfare, reduction of biodiversity, as well as ethical concerns," Corinne Lepage, a French member of the European Parliament, said this month before a vote there in favor of a blanket ban.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration declared in 2008 that food from cloned cattle, pigs, goats and their progeny was safe to eat. (Cloned sheep were left off the list, but their progeny were declared O.K.) The Agriculture Department, however, has asked farmers to voluntarily keep all direct clones out of the food supply for an unspecified period so it can manage a "smooth and orderly" transition to market.

In Europe, government officials say that anyone who wanted to market meat or dairy products from clones would need to seek permission under the European Union's "novel foods" regulations, which were generally meant to cover newly developed ingredients. So far, no one has.