The possibility of cloned milk and beef products being integrated into the British food supply has been met with an uproar from consumers, the media, and federal agencies.

The article sparking this most recent controversy was published in the New York Times. It focused on the emergence of cloned livestock in Europe, comparing this to the staunch laws prohibiting genetically modified (GM) crops that have sparked trade disputes with strong agricultural exporting nations such as the United States, Brazil, and Argentina. As with GM crops, European consumers traditionally have shown a general lack of support for cloned animals. Food Safety News reported earlier this summer on a piece of European Union legislation now on the desks of member state governors, awaiting final signatures. If passed, the law ban all meat and dairy products deriving from cloned animals and their offspring.

cow-calf1-featured.jpgThe farmer interviewed by the New York Times lives and farms in Britain. The article reads: “Another British dairy farmer said he was using milk from a cow bred from a clone as part of his daily production. He also said he was selling embryos from the same cow to breeders in Canada. The farmer insisted on anonymity, saying that the British public regarded cloning as so distasteful that buyers would stop taking his milk.”

After this article was published on July 29, fear spread throughout Britain, rippling beyond into Europe and around the world. Articles referencing the anonymous farmer have been published in all major British newspapers, as well as on BBC and ABC, and in The Canadian Press and Australian Food.

The British Food Standards Agency has released two press statements this week, claiming that the agency is doing all in its power to find the controversial dairy cow. “The Agency’s investigation has been wide-reaching and has involved, among others, farming organizations, the dairy industry, local authorities, and breed associations,” the agency said.

In the interest of transparency, the agency revealed in its second news release that during the process of the dairy cow investigation it discovered two bulls born in the UK to females impregnated with cloned sperm from the United States. Both bulls have been slaughtered. The meat from the first bull named Dundee Paratrooper entered the food supply over a year ago and has since been consumed. The second bull was slaughtered last week and disposed of. This revelation expanded the international debate from milk products to beef.

The Food Standards Agency also revealed that investigators had found a single dairy cow that was bred with cloned sperm, but cannot confirm if her milk has entered the food supply. “As part of this investigation local authority officials are visiting the farm on which this herd is kept,” the agency said.

Though “Dolly,” the world’s first cloned animal, was born in Scotland, the only way for a cloned animal to currently live in Great Britain is through the purchase of embryos from countries exporting such items like the United States. 

The BBC reported that only eight embryos have been imported into the UK. Each embryo can cost up to $15,943. The offspring from these embryos are the only cloned cows and bulls whose meat and dairy products could be on the market. The Daily Mail reports that these cows have gone on to produce a further 97 offspring. Britain does not have a system in place to keep track of imported embryos or their offspring.

dairy cow feature10.jpgIn one of the reports issued by the Food Standards Agency the authors admit that there has been no conclusive evidence showing cloned animal products are in any way dangerous to human health. However, the general consensus in Europe is that animal cloning may be morally wrong.

Dutch MEP Kartika Liotard explained to the New York Times, “A clear majority in the European Parliament supports ethical objections to the industrial production of cloned meat for food. Cloned animals suffer disproportionately highly from illnesses, malformations, and premature death.”

Though there is currently no research implying that cloned animal products can be harmful to human health, current law prohibits such products from being sold. These laws support the many consumer, agricultural, and animal rights groups calling for an outright ban on cloned products due to ethical beliefs.

The FSA ended its most recent news release by saying, “The Agency would like to remind food business operators of their responsibility to ensure food they produce is compliant with the law. In order to produce food products from clones or their offspring, a novel food application must be submitted and authorization granted at a European level before any such food is placed on the market.”