Calves born of a cloned cow have been created on a Shropshire farm, it was has been revealed.
The calves’ mother was created in a laboratory using cells taken from a prize-winning animal in the US.
The revelation has sparked fears over the safety of cloned meat entering the food chain and concern that the developing techniques will end up as a stepping stone towards human cloning.
At least three calves born from the cloned are believed to have been produced at Smiddiehill Holsteins farm in Shropshire in December 2006.
The selling of cloned meat for consumption is not permitted in this country. But there is no legal safeguards against eating their offspring.
The US has already approved the production and sale of foods derived from clones and The European Food Safety Authority recently concluded produce from cloned pigs, cattle and goats and their offspring is safe.
Dr Sue Avery, director of Birmingham Women’s Hospital’s infertility treatment centre, said: “There is no evidence to show this will do any harm. At the moment there is no rational basis for this fear unless you consider fear of the unknown to be healthy.
“It is being aligned with genetically modified crops. But just because they are cloned doesn’t mean they have been modified. It means they come from a single separate parent rather than two parents which is a different thing to engineering the gene.
“As far as we know the mother cow is normal. It has had normal off-spring. The off-spring are not clones, but they are the off-spring of clones.”
Ms claimed meat from such stock would be digested in the normal way without any impact on the human body.
“People are afraid with the concept of interfering with nature. But the question we have to ask is ‘what exactly are they afraid of?
“Ever since we learned how to grow crops we have modified them. We selected them. It was not something that happened naturally. Here we treat people who are infertile. It is all interfering with nature.”
The revelation of the calves births comes as an “overwhelming majority” of consumers said they would not eat food from cloned animals if it was to become available.
Dr Steve Griggs, the director of Creative Research, which carried out the study, said: “The overwhelming majority of people concluded that they personally would not want to eat this type of food.”
Just a “fairly small number” were comfortable with trying the products.
Asked if consumers would try clearly labelled food from cloned animals if it appeared on supermarket shelves, he replied: “There might be a few people that might try it out of curiosity. I think most people would steer clear of it.”
But Ms Avery said the public might have to get over their squeamishness if cloning ended up providing a solution for the world’s food shortages.
“We do have an issue of feeding the world. We have a huge population issue. That has to be balanced against this ‘yuk’ factor that happens with cloning.”
Ms Avery said public perception was influenced by science fiction.
“The word clone is the thing that sparks it. It has too many negative associations. There are all these science fiction images where you take one adult and within five minutes you have someone else standing there wearing the same clothes.
“There are some Koreans who claim to have cloned a human but in this country human cloning is illegal. There is a world of difference between cloning animals and humans.
“It is about identity. Commodification of children. Designer children. It is a different set of concerns to eating a cloned cow.”