Although its scientific arm has said meat and milk from clones are safe to eat, the European Commission has proposed a temporary, five-year ban on animal cloning for food production.

The recommendation announced Tuesday is expected to be approved by the European Union’s members and the European Parliament.  As of now, Denmark is the only member of the EU that bars cloning for commercial purposes.

John Dalli, the European commissioner on health and consumer policy, told reporters the proposed ban was a matter of animal welfare, not food safety.  “Food from cloned animals is safe.  In fact, the scientific opinion is that it cannot be differentiated in any way from food from normally bred animals,” he was quoted in a Reuters report.

He also said, “Cloning for food is not required. There’s no need for it.”  He called the temporary ban “a realistic and feasible solution” to address ethical issues related to animal welfare.

Animal cloning is a difficult and expensive process in which DNA transfer creates a genetic duplicate.  Estimates of its failure rate are as high as 90 percent, and cloned animals have a disproportionately high incidence of deformity, vulnerability to illness and premature mortality.

The technique’s appeal to the food industry is that the conventionally bred offspring of clones can share desirable traits such as faster growth or superior milk production.

The EU cloned-animal food suspension recommendation follows reports this summer in the New York Times and other publications that meat and dairy products from cloned animals were likely already on EU supermarket shelves. 

As proposed, the new rules would permit imports of food derived from the offspring of clones, as well as allow semen and embyros from clones for breeding, which the New York Times suggests is a way for the EU to not trigger a trade war.

Food from conventionally bred offspring of clones does not present animal welfare issues, Dalli explained, adding that banning its sale and import would be next to impossible anyway, because it would be so difficult to trace.

“Such a prohibition would lead to a ban of imports of any food of animal origin (meat, milk and processed products) from third countries allowing the cloning technique,” the report said.

The United States has a voluntary moratorium on the marketing of food from cloned animals, but not from their offspring.