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23rd Feb 2020

MEPs call for ban on animal cloning for food

MEPs have called for a European ban on the cloning of animals for food in a resolution passed on Wednesday (3 September) by 622 votes to 32, with 25 abstentions. The members also pushed for an embargo on the import of cloned animals, along with offspring and any cloned food products.

Concerns focused on the high mortality rates of cloned animals.

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  • MEPs are concerned that cloning is harmful to animal welfare (Photo: Wikipedia)

"Cloning is an incredibly wasteful way of producing food, requiring the loss of many animal lives just to produce one successful clone," Green MEP Caroline Lucas told EUobserver. "It has been shown that the animals who do survive suffer more defects and die much earlier than non-cloned animals.

"Only eight percent of sheep involved in a cloning process result in a viable offspring or embryo. For cows this is 15-20 percent," she added, "goats less than three percent, pigs three to five percent, rabbits less than two percent."

Protagonists on both sides of the debate acknowledge that cloned animals are faced with a wide range of health problems, with a high death rate and a high incidence of disease.

Clones commonly suffer from premature ageing, enlarged tongues, squashed faces, intestinal blockages, immune deficiencies, diabetes, heart, lung and liver damage, kidney failure and brain abnormalities.

Surrogate mothers are also burdened with significant suffering and a high death rate, in particular as a result of "large-offspring syndrome."

"From an animal welfare perspective, it's clear that this process causes serious suffering, and may already be illegal," continued Ms Lucas. "European law actually states that 'breeding procedures that cause or are likely to cause suffering or injury to any of the animals concerned must not be practiced'."

The parliamentarians were also afraid that cloning would reduce the genetic diversity of livestock, with the Center for Food Safety (CFS) - an American NGO - saying the patenting of cloned offspring raises concerns that corporations such as Monsanto will control entire breeds.

With the production of identical animals, the CFS argues, the lack of genetic variability means that disease could affect all animals in a herd simultaneously, wiping them out entirely.

Science and religion

The near unanimity of the European Parliament on the issue reflects the scientific concerns of Green and left-of-centre MEPs and the moral and religious issues that see conservatives argue the cloning of animals is "playing God."

The UK conservative MEP and parliament agriculture committee chairman, Neil Parish, emphasised health and safety worries, however. "The problems with cloning concern not only the welfare of animals but also consumer confidence in food that may come from cloned animals," he said.

The chamber also requested that the European Commission develop proposals prohibiting cloned animals and the food they produce. During a debate on Tuesday evening ahead of Wednesday's vote, MEPs questioned the European Commission on its position and its plans regarding animal cloning.

In answering the MEPs' questions, Androula Vassiliou, the commissioner for health and food safety, seemed open to their views.

"There are no convincing arguments to justify the production of food from clones and their offspring," said the commissioner.

"According to global trade rules, imports of food products from third countries can be suspended if they present a serious threat to animal or public health. On the basis of the studies conducted and the opinion of EFSA, the commission will consider whether restrictions must be imposed," she added.

Previous studies

In January, the European Food and Safety Agency (EFSA) declared cloned food to be safe to eat or drink. Then, the following Tuesday (15 January), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its own opinion, also declaring cloned food safe for consumption.

But two days later the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technology (EGE), the commission's advisory group charged with consideration of ethics in science and technology, issued another report, which had "doubts as to whether cloning animals for food supply is ethically justified."

Currently no products derived from cloned animals are sold in Europe or the rest of the world. Experts believe such products could reach the market by 2010.

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