EU proposes ban on cloning farm animals, sale of clone meat

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PARIS — Farm-animal cloning should be banned in the European Union, along with imports of cloned livestock and the sale of food from such animals, the European Commission proposed in a draft law.

The proposal seeks to address worries about animal welfare and other ethical concerns related to use of cloning, the commission, the 28-nation EU's executive arm in Brussels, said Wednesday. Cloning for now is so expensive that its use for food production isn't viable, according to the agency.

The EU, with a population of more than 500 million people, produces 20 percent of the world's pork, 11 percent of its beef and accounts for 30 percent of global cheese exports, data from the United Nations' Food & Agriculture Organization show. The commission said surveys show that most EU citizens disapprove of the use of clones for food production, and they do not want to eat meat from animal clones.

The proposed regulation seeks "to ensure that no cloning for farming purposes will be carried out in the European Union and no such clone will be imported as long as these animal welfare concerns persist," EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg told reporters in Brussels. "It's a ban on the technique, a ban on imports of the cloned animals themselves and a ban on food, milk or meat from the cloned animals."

The proposal, which needs approval from EU governments and the European Parliament to become law, intends "to prohibit the marketing of clones for food for human consumption," the commission said. "It is not likely that such measures will have a high trade impact."

EU governments in 2011 rejected the Parliament's demand to ban food produced from the offspring of cloned animals, saying such a move could provoke retaliation by trade partners.

No food-business operator has so far applied for authorization to sell food produced by cloning, the commission said. Risk assessment by the European Food Safety Authority has found no sign that food safety for meat and milk from clones and their offspring was any different from conventionally bred animals.

The U.S., Canada, Brazil, Australia, Argentina and Japan confirmed that animals are cloned on their territories, without being able to indicate to what extent, according to the EU.

The commission is proposing a temporary ban on the use of cloning on farmed animals, as well as a directive ensuring that meat and milk from animal clones is not sold in the EU. The bans will be provisional as the technology is likely to develop and would require future review, the commission said.

Denmark is the only country in the bloc with a ban on the use of animal cloning for commercial purposes, according to the commission. The EU-wide ban would apply to cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and equine species, according to the statement.

Animal clones are copies created by transferring genetic material into an egg which is then implanted in a surrogate mother, who will carry and give birth to the clone. The success rate for the procedure is 6 percent to 15 percent for cattle and 6 percent for pigs, according to a June 2012 statement from the food safety authority.

Surrogate mothers used in cloning suffer from an increased level of miscarriages, while abnormalities and unusually large offspring result in difficult births and the death of newborn animals, according to the commission.

The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies expressed doubts in 2008 that animal cloning for food production can be justified, citing "the current level of suffering and health problems."

Cloning would be allowed for research, conservation of rare breeds and endangered species, as well as of animals to produce pharmaceuticals and medical devices, where the use of the technology can be justified, according to the proposal.

The EU has no system in place to track the natural offspring of clones, and the commission said it considered labeling of food from clones and their offspring and descendants. The option of labeling fresh beef from clone offspring is so complex that more time is needed to study the impact and feasibility, Borg said.

"This requires that parentage information for every food producing animal is conveyed through the food-production chain," the commission said. "This becomes more complicated and therefore costly with every generation."

The draft laws proposed Wednesday also include a directive on novel foods, which the commission said will simplify and speed up approval. A revision proposed in 2008 failed because of the cloning issue, the commission said.

Novel foods, such as noni juice made from a Tahitian plant, rooster-comb extract or chia seeds, on average take 3 1/2 years to be approved, according to the EU.

As part of the proposal, any food with a demonstrated history of safe use outside the EU will be allowed to be placed on the market, provided there are no safety objections from the bloc's member states or EFSA, according to the statement.

Nanomaterials, which are engineered at the scale of atoms and molecules, will require a novel-food authorization before use in foodstuffs, the commission said.