Research into the impact on human health of eating cloned meat is limited, warns Joanna Blythman

BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh was on the news chomping into a steak from a cloned animal. He seemed to be out to lunch with the US's biggest cattle cloning company, ViaGen, and appeared to have pretty much swallowed not only the steak but the pro-cloning line. The Food and Drug Administration says it's safe, he told us, and Americans are eating it every day, so what's the problem?

The prerogative of science correspondents everywhere is to adopt an uncritical, boyish "Gee whizz, isn't it marvellous?" stance when presented with any new technology. His apparent enthusiasm was not shared by the vice president of Whole Foods Market, who burst the bubble by pointing out that Americans are only eating unlabelled cloned meat because they are oblivious to its very existence. Fortunately, British retailers are fully aware of public resistance to cloning. They won't touch it with a bargepole. That's in tune with the mood this side of the pond. Only last month, the European Parliament voted to ban cloned meat and milk from entering the food chain.

Pat assurances that cloned meat (and milk) are safe to eat stick in the throat. Research on possible human health effects is extremely limited. Obviously, no long-term trials have been carried out. Too much rests on the assumption that since the primary DNA sequence is unchanged, cloned food will be just as safe as its non-cloned equivalent.

Apart from anything else, cloning should be rejected outright because it causes unacceptable levels of animal suffering. The death toll is horrific: on average 42 % of cattle clones die between delivery and 150 days of life. The cloned embryos have to be implanted into a surrogate mother using a potentially painful surgical procedure. Even if they do not miscarry, these mothers have trouble giving birth naturally and may need a caesarean because the calves are unusually big.

Statistically speaking, clones are rarely healthy. In one 2006 study of 93 cloned sheep, only 12 reached full-term development. Of these, all were dead within a month because of various weaknesses.

Some people can accept animal suffering if it brings a human health benefit. But what is cloning in aid of? The 'best' steak? The 'perfect' chop? Squeezing more milk out of the cow? Unlike Ghosh, that's a menu few people will relish.

Joanna Blythman is a food journalist and author of Bad Food Britain.