25th Mar 2019

Dolly scientist rejects cloning for food, as EU talks break down

Long-running EU negotiations on 'novel foods' have ended in acrimony, with MEPs and member states diverging over the issue of labeling food produced from the offspring of cloned animals.

At the same time, the scientist behind the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, Dolly the sheep, told EUobserver by telephone on Tuesday (29 March) that cloning for food is hard to justify.

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"I really think the idea that eating cloned animals or their offspring would offer a risk to human health is very, very unlikely," said professor Ian Wilmut, of Edinburgh University.

"There is another issue - the production of a cloned breeding stock ... There is no doubt that there is still a difficult birth," said Wilmut, also pointing to potential respiratory problems in cloned animals.

"If you were making cloned animals to make a genetic change to produce a protein that could treat human disease, that might be ethically acceptable. On the other hand, if you were producing more meat, or slightly better quality meat, the advantage would not be very great."

EU talks on the subject broke down at 7am on Tuesday morning (29 March) after 12 hours in the negotiating room, with member states blaming the European Parliament and vice versa.

Both sides coalesced on the need to ban all food products from cloned animals, but failed to see eye-to-eye on the issue of labeling food products from the offspring of cloned animals.

Member states, represented by the Hungarian EU presidency, agreed to labeling on fresh meat products from the offspring of cloned cattle, arguing that other products should first be subject to a feasibility report by the European Commission.

A traceability system for individual cattle already exists in Europe, while a similar system for pigs, for example, is less developed.

As a result, national governments are concerned that onerous new rules would be difficult to enforce, while the commission fears the wider measures could attract retaliation from the EU's trading partners.

MEPs involved in the negotiations insisted however on the need to immediately cover all products under the additional labeling requirement, arguing that EU citizens were concerned by the matter and had the right to know what they were eating.

"Measures regarding clone offspring are absolutely critical because clones are commercially viable only for breeding, not directly for food production," Socialist MEP Gianni Pittella and far-left MEP Kartika Liotard said in a joint statement after the talks broke down.

"No farmer would spend €100,000 on a cloned bull, only to turn it into hamburgers," added the two MEPs leading parliament's negotiating team.

The deadlock brings three years of negotiations to an end, after the commission came forward with draft proposals on 'novel foods' in 2008.

Speaking to journalists later on Tuesday morning, EU health and consumer policy commissioner John Dalli said many aspects which had been agreed between the two sides would now be lost.

"These included a legal definition of nano-materials and their mandatory labeling," said the Maltese commissioner, also pointing to mutual agreement for a centralised authorisation procedure to facilitate innovation from the food industry.

Instead, the EU's 1997 regulation on 'novel foods' remains in place, a piece of legislation that says nothing specifically on cloning or the use of nanotechnology.

While the commission does consider products from cloned animals to be 'novel food', and they therefore require pre-market authorisation, milk from the offspring of cloned animals currently needs no special labeling or permission.

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