The United States has unofficially sounded out Japan about the idea of importing beef, processed foods and dairy products made from cloned cows and their offspring, sources involved in Japanese-U.S. relations have said.
The United States began requesting permission from Japan to export cloned meat in mid-January, the sources said. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry asked the Food Safety Commission to evaluate the safety of cows and pigs cloned from somatic cells on April 1.
Japan told the United States that Tokyo plans to seriously consider its request after safety checks, they said.
A cow cloned from somatic cell, which contains genetic characteristics similar to the parent, can be used to make an identical copy of a cow that produces quality meat.
Japan and the United States both have self-imposed controls on the sale and shipment of food produced from cloned livestock.
If the United States lifts its market ban on distributing cloned products, it will also likely increase requests for Japan to import them.
In the U.S. the Food and Drug Administration said in January that meat and milk from cloned animals are as safe for consumption as products from conventionally bred animals.
But the Agriculture Department has urged animal cloning companies to extend a voluntary moratorium on their sale.
After the announcement by the FDA, U.S. officials began sounding out Japanese government ministries about importing products made from cloned cows in the future, the sources said.
Referring to the timing of the inquiry to the Food Safety Commission, a Japanese government source said Japan received “no influence” from the FDA’s assessment regarding the safety of food produced from cloned cows.
Some researchers have voiced concern about the high death rate for somatic cell-cloned animals and about unforeseeable dangers the products may generate.